May is Stroke Awareness Month

May is Stroke Awareness Month, a time to spread the word about the nation’s fifth-leading cause of death. Dr. Paul Saphier, a board-certified neurovascular neurosurgeon with Altair Health, recently spoke with NJ Advance Media about the two major types of stroke, the warning signs and the best way to seek treatment.

Q: What causes a stroke?

A: Stroke can be caused by two things — either the blockage of a blood vessel in the neck or brain, such as a blood clot (called an ischemic stroke) or bleeding into the brain (called a hemorrhagic stroke). Ischemic strokes account for about 87% of all strokes according to the National Stroke Association.

Q: How do you spot the warning signs of a stroke?

A: Remember the acronym BE FAST to keep an eye out for the most common symptoms of stroke.

Q: How do the doctors find the blood clot?

A: Often a special type of CT scan called a CT angiogram is done during the acute stroke workup to look at the blood vessels in the brain. If there is a large clot, it will likely be seen with this scan.

Q: How is the blood clot removed?

A: If the patient meets the criteria, a clot-busting IV medication can be given to help break up the clot. Large blood clots may be able to be removed in an emergency surgical procedure.

During surgery, a thin catheter is inserted into an artery in the patient’s groin or wrist. The catheter is navigated to the clot in the brain. A special device is then used to retrieve the blockage. If this procedure is successful, patients have the best chance for recovery.

Q: How do you choose a surgeon for a surgery like this?

A: When it comes to stroke, ‘time is brain,’ so getting emergency medical care is critical.

However, it is a good idea to do proactive research and find an experienced endovascular neurosurgeon and surgical team in your area that specializes in comprehensive stroke treatment (for aneurysms, arteriovenous malformations, acute ischemic stroke, carotid occlusion, etc.).

That way, you know where to turn if you or a loved one needs immediate care.

Q: How do you know if your surgical team is qualified?

A: Find a facility that has Joint Commission Certification as a Comprehensive Stroke Center (CSC) or an Acute Stroke Ready Hospital (ASRH). These centers provide the highest levels of quality care and have specific capabilities to treat the most complex stroke cases.