BEFAST: A stroke awareness Q&A with Essentia Health’s Megan Carlblom

May 02, 2024  By: Caitlin Pallai

model of a human brain

Stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States, according to the American Stroke Association (ASA). In recognition of National Stroke Awareness Month, Essentia Health urges people to refresh their knowledge about the risk factors, signs and how to prevent stroke.

Below is a Q&A with Megan Carlblom, a nurse practitioner in interventional neurology at Essentia, who answers some important questions about stroke.

What is a stroke?

A stroke occurs when oxygen and blood flow is reduced to the brain, causing damage. There are two types of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic. Ischemic strokes account for about 87% of strokes and occur when blood flow to the brain is blocked. Hemorrhagic, or bleeding strokes, occur when a blood vessel ruptures. Treatment options include clot-busting medications, physically removing clots and repairing burst vessels.

Do strokes present differently in men and women as with a heart attack?

No, stroke doesn't play favorites. They present the same way in men and women.

What are the signs?

Remember “BEFAST,” which stands for:

  • Balance: Does the person have sudden loss of balance?
  • Eyes: Has the person lost vision in one or both eyes?
  • Face: Smile. Does a side of the face droop?
  • Arms: Raise both arms. Does one drift downward?
  • Speech: Repeat a simple phrase. Is speech slurred or strange?
  • Time: If you observe any of these signs, it’s time to call 911 right away.

T also stands for "terrible headache," which can be a sign of stroke. Called a thunderclap headache, it is intense and comes on suddenly.

What can a stroke do?

A stroke can cause physical, emotional and cognitive disabilities. A wide range of severity in these disabilities can occur and this is why stroke can be so devastating.

What does "time is brain" mean?

A million brain cells die for every minute that passes following the onset of a stroke, so time is of the essence. The sooner we can treat a stroke, the better the outcome will be.

Are there any misconceptions about stroke?

Yes, that strokes only happen when we are old. Strokes can happen at any age. Although stroke risk increases as we age, even young people can have a stroke. If you notice signs or symptoms at any age, call 911.

What are some risk factors?

Our lifestyle can put us at the highest risk for stroke, especially in America. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity and diabetes are all leading causes of stroke. About one in three U.S. adults have at least one of these conditions or habits.

How can people reduce their risk?

According to the ASA, 80% of strokes are preventable. Lifestyle changes that can help reduce someone's risk include:

  • Losing weight.
  • Being physically active — at least 30 minutes a day.
  • Eating healthy.
  • Drinking less alcohol.
  • Reducing stress.
  • Maintaining healthy cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
  • Quitting smoking.
Stroke affects many people in different ways and stroke recovery lasts a lifetime. Learn your risk by reviewing the ASA's Stroke Risk Scorecard and share the results with your primary care provider.

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