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“Don’t drive, call 911," stroke experts recommend

The Southwestern Ontario Stroke Network (SWOSN) is raising awareness about the symptoms one might experience in the event of a stroke, and what you can do to minimize damage to your precious brain.

"The fact is that about two million brain cells die every minute during a stroke,” explains Dr. Jennifer Mandzia, SWOSN's medical director and a stroke neurologist at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC). “That’s why the effectiveness of stroke treatment strongly depends on patients accessing appropriate care as soon as possible after the onset of symptoms.”

A stroke happens when blood stops flowing to any part of the brain, depriving those cells of oxygen and nutrients. When cells die, that area of the brain and the body functions controlled by it become impaired.

In the words of SWOSN, "time is brain."

The longer you wait to receive proper care for a stroke, the more brain cells you lose, and the more likely you are to suffer devastating after-effects. SWOSN stated about 60 per cent of stroke victims are left with some form of disability, while 15 per cent die.

Immediate symptoms of a stroke can be face paralysis, inability to raise the arms, trouble speaking, weakness on one side of the body, or a sudden loss of balance or coordination.

If you experience any of these symptoms, stroke experts strongly urge you to call 911.

"Many people understand the signs and symptoms of a stroke but continue to drive to hospital, as they feel they may arrive sooner. But we’re telling them not to attempt to drive or to be driven to the hospital," advises Sandy Steinwender, regional prevention coordinator of the SWOSN.

Only eight hospitals in southwestern Ontario have acute stroke centres, according to Steinwender.

"Many decisions to self-drive result in stroke survivors arriving at a non-stroke centre, which ultimately delays treatment and access to best practice care," she said. "Call 9-1-1 immediately as soon as symptoms appear. Don’t wait. Paramedics are trained to begin treatment in the ambulance on the way to hospital."

When paramedics tend to a stroke patient, they make contact with the appropriate acute stroke centre and the specialized team gets ready to take over. Doctors can administer a clot-busting medication if a patient is seen within 4.5 hours of symptom onset. If the blockage is located in a larger vessel of the brain, doctors can sometimes physically remove it through a minimally invasive procedure.

"We compare our emergency stroke protocol with the transitions at an Ironman Race – one more second could make the difference between coming in first or third or last,” Dr. Mandzia added. “It’s the same for strokes: each second or minute we delay can make a difference between a patient being able to recover or being disabled for life."

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