The following is a Q&A with Dr. Colin McDonald , medical director of the comprehensive stroke program at Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center.

Time is the most important factor when it comes to beating a stroke, according to Dr. Colin McDonald.

Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke. Every four minutes, a stroke claims a life. As the nation’s fifth leading cause of death and a leading cause of permanent disability, stroke affects nearly 800,000 Americans each year, but it doesn’t have to.

According to the American Stroke Association, 80 percent of strokes are preventable. Dr. McDonald described the warning signs of a stroke and explained the importance of seeking treatment immediately.

Q: What are the signs and symptoms of a stroke?

A: The easiest way to remember the signs of a stroke is the acronym FAST – for face, arm, speech, time. Try smiling. Is the smile uneven or is one side of the face drooping or numb? What about arm weakness? Try raising both arms. Does one drift downward? Are you unable to speak clearly or experiencing difficulty being understood? Try repeating a simple sentence such as, “The sky is blue.” Are you understood without any problem? If you or someone you know is experiencing any one of these symptoms, call 911 immediately – even if the symptoms seem to go away. The first 60 minutes after the onset of a stroke is critical to your recovery.

Q: Why is the length of time so crucial between the onset of a stroke and when treatment begins?

A: Everyone is familiar with a heart attack and how serious it is. A stroke can be best described as a “brain attack.” Just like every other organ in the body, the brain needs sufficient oxygen to function properly. When blood flow to the brain is blocked, or when one of the brain’s vessels bursts and causes bleeding within the brain, it is considered a stroke. During a stroke, the affected part of the brain is deprived of oxygen for an extended period of time, and brain cells start to die immediately. In fact, it’s estimated that 2 million brain cells die every minute during a stroke, which leads to permanent brain damage, disability and death. The quicker you receive treatment, the less damage can occur.

Q: How is Novant Health prepared to care for patients who suffer a stroke?

A: How is Novant Health prepared to care for patients who suffer a stroke? A: Novant Health Forsyth Medical Center and Novant Health Presbyterian Medical Center are Advanced Comprehensive Stroke Centers, and Novant Health Huntersville Medical Center, Novant Health Matthews Medical Center, Novant Health Rowan Medical Center and Novant Health Thomasville Medical Center are all Primary Stroke Centers. These designations are awarded by The Joint Commission, an independent not-for-profit group that accredits health care organizations and recognizes organizations that follow the best practices for stroke care. Primary stroke centers certified by The Joint Commission use a standardized method of delivering care, support patient self-management activities, individualize treatment and intervention, have an open dialogue among all patient care providers and follow the guidelines established by the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association. Hospitals recognized as an advanced comprehensive stroke center, which is the highest level of designation, must first become a primary stroke center and then show they are dedicating significant resources in staff and training to treat a complex stroke. This includes providing neuro-critical care 24 hours a day, the use of advanced imagining and participation in stroke resources. It signifies that we are providing our patients with the best care that’s given anywhere in the country.

Q: What steps can people take to avoid suffering from a stroke?

A: Some factors that contribute to a stroke are controllable, while others are not. Controllable risk factors are mainly associated with maintaining a healthy lifestyle, including avoiding alcohol and smoking; managing diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol; exercising daily; and following a proper diet. Factors that cannot be controlled include age, gender, family history, previous stroke history, race and ethnicity.

Q: What are the most effective stroke treatment options?

A: The type of treatment depends on the type of stroke. There are two types of stoke. The most common is called ischemic stroke. This type of stroke occurs when a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain becomes blocked, obstructing the flow of blood to the brain. The most common treatments for an ischemic stroke is to either open the blockage or treat the ruptured vessel that is causing the bleeding in the brain. A medication known as tissue plasminogen activator, more frequently called tPA, is the only FDA-approved treatment for ischemic strokes and is typically the first line of therapy. If administered three hours after the onset of the stroke, it can effectively work to dissolve the clot, which will improve blood flow to the affected area of the brain. If the patient does not appear to be responding to the tPA, neurosurgeons with a specialization in endovascular surgery may perform a mechanical thrombectomy to extract larger clots using a stent retriever. The main thing to remember is that there are advanced stroke treatments available, but time is crucial with all forms of treatment.

Are you at risk of having a stroke? Find out now by taking our free online stroke risk assessment. Visit .  

 If you need help finding a provider, call us toll-free at 1-844-553-8370.