Dr. Lawton: Despite scary stats, stroke is not a death sentence

As we observed National Stroke Awareness Month, we must recognize that someone in the U.S. suffers a stroke every 40 seconds, and someone dies from stroke every four minutes.

Dr. Michael Lawton

Stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death among Americans, accounting for 140,000 fatalities each year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s about 1 out of every 20 deaths.

More than 795,000 Americans, and more than 8,000 Maricopa County residents, have a stroke each year. While ranked only fifth as cause of death, stroke ranks first as cause of disability.

The numbers are scary. But the good news is that thanks to advances in treatment, a stroke is no longer a death sentence.

Strokes are largely preventable. While genetics and age can increase stroke risk, the risk may be diminished with lifestyle alterations, including controlling blood pressure, quitting smoking and reducing cholesterol.

Quitting smoking is critically important: smokers have a vastly increased risk of stroke compared to nonsmokers or those who have quit for longer than 10 years.

I urge the public to consider their stroke risk factors and make at least one lifestyle change that will reduce stroke risk. There’s no time like the present.

And speaking of time: with stroke, time matters. You must act immediately if you or someone around you suddenly has a weak face or arm, can’t speak properly, or becomes numb.

Rapid response is key to successful stroke outcomes because speedy treatment can greatly reduce the effects of a stroke.

Today, Phoenix residents are benefiting from a partnership between Barrow Neurological Institute and the Phoenix Fire Department to deploy a large emergency service vehicle, Barrow Emergency Stroke Treatment Unit, around the clock to treat stroke curbside.

Phoenix is the first U.S. city with a population greater than 1 million to address this public health need. Bringing treatments to patients, rather than waiting for patients to get to an emergency room, accelerates intervention.

Strokes are diagnosed curbside, clots are dissolved en route to the hospital and the endovascular neurosurgeons begin the intervention to retrieve the clot as soon as the truck reaches our doors.

Revolutionizing stroke treatment is not just about big trucks, but also about new therapies — from strokes caused by blocked arteries to bleeding strokes caused by ruptured brain aneurysms, arteriovenous malformations and high blood pressure.

Stroke prevention and treatment is critically important work for one simple reason: a stroke can affect a person for the rest of his or her life. Every time I walk through the Barrow Stroke Center, I marvel at the resilience of our patients and the skill of our physicians and researchers — and those stroke statistics don’t seem quite so scary.

Editor’s Note: Michael Lawton, MD, is the president and CEO of Barrow Neurological Institute and the Chair of Barrow’s Department of Neurosurgery.

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