Awareness Key To Heading Off Strokes

When baseball Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett died Monday at 45 after suffering a massive stroke, it drew attention again to a problem that more and more people seem to be taking note of: relatively young adults suffering strokes.

"Being more aware of (the phenomenon) can really help you in a lot of different ways," The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay toldco-anchor Harry Smith Tuesday. "It can help you prevent it and help you get to the emergency room much more quickly if you understand what the symptoms are.

"We know there are about 700,000 strokes every year (in the United States), from two principle causes. One is an ischemic stroke, where a blood clot blocks blood flow to the brain. That's the most common type. A less common type is a bleeding stroke.

"This is an enormous problem in this country. It's all linked to … the obesity epidemic, high blood pressure, cholesterol. All these things are rolled into one."

Puckett was extremely overweight.

What warning signs should people be tuned into?

"This is very important, perhaps most important information we'll talk about today," Senay responded.

"If you feel a sudden numbness or weakness in any part of the body, even on one side of the body, that is a strong warning that a stroke is a possibility.

"(Other symptoms include) confusion or difficulty speaking, or trouble understanding what people are saying to you; vision problems in one or both eyes; a lack of balance or having trouble with coordination; a severe headache without known cause.

"If you have any of these symptoms, you really want to get to the emergency room within a three-hour window so that, if you are a candidate for clot-busting drugs, you can get them.

"Being familiar with what these symptoms are will help millions of people, because so many people delay getting to the emergency room."

Senay says such symptoms mean a stroke could be "evolving. They sort of evolve over time. As the blood flow is blocked, the cells become distressed. If they're blocked long enough, they go from being distressed to dying. If you can restore blood flow, you can revive the cells, literally."

For many people, Senay added, strokes are treatable, and there are new therapies heading for the market.

"Hopefully," she concluded, "we'll see better treatments out there. The best thing we should all do is try to prevent it."