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Stroke Symptom Awareness

One hundred and sixty thousand Americans die each year from stroke but as CBS 2's Paul Moniz reports, doctors say those numbers could be cut dramatically if people were more aware of the symptoms of stroke and the importance of being hospitalized immediately.

Several clot busting drugs can reduce your risk of brain damage but only if administered right away.

Experts say the public has gotten the message about heart attack symptoms but is still in the dark when it comes to stroke.

"It's frustrating in some ways," says Dr. Edwin Richter of the NYU Medical Center. "People simply take for granted the way their brain functions!"

Public service announcements referring to strokes as brain attacks are trying to drive the point home.

Stroke is actually the death of part of the brain due to loss of blood or oxygen, usually caused by a blood clot.

Too often, people ignore stroke warning signs, such as sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg, usually on one side sudden confusion, trouble speaking trouble seeing, dizziness and loss of balance and severe headache with no known cause.

Even former president Gerald Ford took some of these symptoms casually. Last August, he appeared at the Republican National Convention and had already suffered a stroke when he gave this interview slurring his speech.

Ford was later rushed to the hospital after a second stroke and luckily spared of brain damage.

Doctors stress with stroke that every minute counts: you have just three to six hours to get to the hospital so doctors can administer clot busting drugs including the powerful T.P.A.

Researchers at UCLA are also testing another neuroprotective drug, magnesium sulfate, to be given to patients in intravenous form on the way to the hospital.

"It allows nerve cells to tolerate low blood flow for a longer time period," explains Dr. Jeffrey Saver who works out of UCLA's stroke center. "We hope it will give us a longer window in which to reopen the blocked blood vessel with clot-dissolving medications."

The magnesium is given for 24 hours after the stroke to keep the brain protected. One patient in the study went home one day after his stroke with no need for rehabilitation of further treatment.

If you suspect you've had a stroke, you should insist on having a CAT scan once at the hospital. The scan can confirm the stroke and provide a guideline for treatment.

Remember, you can never be too careful when it comes to the health of your brain. Another important aspect of recovering from stroke is rehabilitation. Many experts we spoke with believe it should be started as soon as the first day of the stroke if possible.

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