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Do you know the warning signs of a stroke?

It’s information that you’ll hopefully never have to use. But because an estimated 80 percent of strokes are preventable, it’s important you know.

The American Stroke Association uses an acronym to help people remember: FAST.

Keefe, Keefe and Unsell P.C. Belleville, Illinois


In a nutshell: Time is of the essence when it comes to minimizing damage from a stroke. The earlier a person recognizes they are having a stroke, the quicker they can get medical help and the better their outcome will typically be. The key is to act FAST.

Apropos, isn’t it? Now, let’s talk about why you want to get prompt medical attention (besides the obvious reasons).

A stroke occurs when the brain is deprived of blood and thus oxygen. Most commonly, this is due to a clot forming, which obstructs blood flow to the brain. Known as an ischemic stroke, this occurs in 87 percent of cases.

Treatment involves breaking up or removing the clot.

The standard of care for most stroke patients is to administer a drug called tPA (tissue plasminogen activator). It is given through an IV in the arm and basically acts like Drano for your blood vessels.

The American Stroke Association has endorsed it as the “gold standard” for saving lives and reducing the long-term effects of a stroke, which can include paralysis, memory loss, and speech, language and vision problems.But this is important: tPA must be given to most patients within three hours of the onset of symptoms, and in select cases, within 4.5 hours. The sooner, the better. We have handled a number of stroke cases where our clients experienced far worse outcomes because their medical team failed to administer tPA — typically because of mistakes that placed them outside that short window of opportunity.

Some patients don’t even know they have the option of getting tPA. That should never occur and we will continue to fight through our lawsuits for those who have been denied this important, life-saving drug.

So why are we bringing this to your attention?

A recent New York Times article points to a growing minority of naysayers who are questioning the safety of the drug. Some emergency room physicians are even scared to use it.

Having interacted personally with numerous stroke victims and their families through the years, we couldn’t stay silent after reading this.

As the article notes right in the headline  — tPA is a proven, effective treatment for most stroke patients.

To be clear, there are some associated risks, especially if it is used improperly or with high-risk patients. The drug can cause or exacerbate cerebral hemorrhage, or bleeding in the brain — certainly a legitimate concern.

But with proper assessment and evaluation of a stroke victim, this risk is minimized.

And the tPA “truthers” seem bent on highlighting these lower risk outcomes while ignoring the very strong, proven benefit of tPA — its ability to prevent brain injury in most stroke victims.

Stroke kills about 140,000 Americans each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is the fifth leading cause of death among Americans. And the CDC also notes this: “Patients who arrive at the emergency room within 3 hours of their first symptoms often have less disability 3 months after a stroke than those who received delayed care.”

Three hours. FAST.

Why? Because tPA makes a big difference.