When Every Minute Counts
By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
Cardiovascular disease is a silent killer that can strike nearly anyone at any time.
And it does.
According to the Mexican Association of Cerebral Vascular Diseases (Amevasc), stroke and other cardiovascular diseases constitute the number one cause of death nationwide, accounting for roughly100,000 fatalities each year.
“About 30 percent of all stroke victims will die from the attack,” explained Roberto de Leo Vargas, a leading neurosurgeon at Mexico City’s ABC Medical Center’s Neurological Science and Orthopedic Center (Cenor)
“The majority of stroke patients could be saved if they receive appropriate medical care in time.”
De Leo went on to say that time is the most crucial factor in treating stroke victims.
“There is generally a window of about three hours from when the first symptoms occur, and it is crucial for patients to get to an emergency room within that time and begin treatment.”
If a patient is treated within that three-hour window, De Leo said that about 90 percent will survive and regain almost all their physical and mental faculties.
“Unfortunately, most people in Mexico don’t take their symptoms seriously and are not even aware what symptoms they should be taking note of,” he said.
“By the time they get to the hospital, there is really very little that can be done to reverse the effects of the stroke.”
That is why De Leo said that it is urgent that a national public education campaign be launched to inform people about the danger of strokes and what symptoms to look for.
“Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arms or legs, especially on one side of the body, is a very common symptom of stroke,” he said.
“A stroke victim might also experience sudden confusion or have trouble speaking or understanding what is being said to them.”
Other symptoms include a sudden blurring of vision in one or both eyes, trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination or a sudden -onset severe headache with no apparent cause.
“If you or someone you are with has some or all of these symptoms, go straight to the hospital,” De Leo said.
At most top-tier hospitals in Mexico, there are special stroke teams on hand 24 hours a day to attend to potential stroke victims.
De Leo said that a patient who is taken to the ABC Medical Center, for example, will be checked out, diagnosed and begin to receive treatment within a maximum of 40 minutes.
“Within minutes of when the patient arrives, we are performing a CAT (computerized axial tomography) scan, and if necessary, a MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) to determine what kind of stroke the patient has and what treatment is appropriate.”
A stroke, also known as a cerebral vascular accident, occurs when the blood supply to any part of the brain is interrupted, resulting in tissue death and loss of brain function.
If blood flow is interrupted for longer than a few seconds, brain cells can begin to die, causing potentially permanent damage.
There are two major types of strokes, hemorrhagic and ischemic.
Ischemic stroke occurs when an artery or blood vessel is blocked by a blood clot or piece of plaque, interrupting blood flow to the brain.
Hemorrhagic strokes occur when a blood vessel bursts inside the brain.
“About 90 percent of strokes are ischemic,” said De Leo.
“The symptoms for both types of stroke are similar, although in hemorrhagic strokes, the patient usually suffers a severe headache. That is not the case in ischemic strokes.”
The causes of stroke are many, but the most common risk factors, according to De Leo, are high blood pressure, smoking and diabetes.
Genetics, high cholesterol, a sedimentary lifestyle and a history of a previous stroke can increase your risk of stroke.
Age is also a factor. Most strokes occur after age 50.
De Leo said that people with migraines are more predisposed to stroke than those who do not suffer from these severe headaches, and women who take hormonal replacement treatment are two times more likely to suffer a stroke.
De Leo said that patients who are at high risk should have regular checkups specifically aimed at preventing strokes, such as CAT scans or MRIs.
“The truth is that when it comes to strokes, the survival of a patient rests to a large extent in his or her own hands,” De Leo said.
“Once a patient gets to the hospital, we can begin giving them treatment and can reduce the long-term consequences of the stroke. Here at the ABC we have more than 70 neurological specialists who work as a team to diagnose, treat and help in rehabilitation. But it’s up to the patient to get to the hospital as soon as possible. In the case of stroke, every minute counts.”