By Michael Haederle

If You Suspect a Stroke -- BE FAST!

UNM Neurologists Promote National Stroke Awareness Month and New Telestroke Service

In his role as a member of the UNM Department of Neurology's stroke team, Tarun Girotra, MD, wants people to observe National Stroke Awareness Month by memorizing a simple acronym: BE FAST. It might just be the key to saving lives and preventing disability.

BE FAST is an easy guide to spotting symptoms that could indicate someone is suffering a stroke:

· Balance - Has the person suffered a sudden loss of balance or coordination?

· Eyes - Is there sudden blurred or double vision or sudden, persistent vision trouble?

· Face - When the person smiles is there drooping on one or both sides of the face?

· Arms - When the person raises both arms does one side drift downward? Is there weakness or numbness on one side?

· Speech - Is the person's speech slurred or garbled? Can he/she repeat simple phrases?

· Time - Call 911 right away if you spot one or more of these signs. Immediate medical care can dramatically improve patient outcomes.

"Stroke is the No. 1 cause of disability in the country," Girotra says. Fewer patients die of strokes than in the past, but there is still great need for long-term care and rehabilitation. The key for limiting or even preventing disability lies in seeking immediate medical care.

UNM's stroke service, which includes neurologists, neurosurgeons, neuro-critical care specialists and interventional radiologists, provides state-of-the-art treatment 24/7, 365 days per year, Girotra says.

They can administer tPA, a drug that dissolves blood clots that form in ischemic strokes, and perform a thrombectomy, in which they mechanically retrieve clots from larger vessels in the brain. These procedures save lives and limit long-term disability.

Soon, Girotra and his colleagues will roll out a new telestroke program that will enable UNM neurologists to evaluate patients brought into emergency rooms at 19 hospitals throughout New Mexico to determine the best course of care.

Using video link technology, "You can just beam in and kind of see the person in a remote emergency room, see what kind of symptoms they have and talk to them and talk to their family to discuss the pros and cons of treatment," he says.

If it looks like the patient would benefit from tPA treatment, they can usually remain at their local hospital. But with the help of CT scans of the brain, neurologists can also determine whether they would benefit from a thrombectomy. "If we can identify them, we can transport them here," Girotra says.

Keeping lower-complexity cases closer to home helps bolster the revenues of financially strapped local hospitals and spares patients and their families from having to travel long distances to Albuquerque for care, he points out. In the future, Girotra says, the technology could even enable to UNM neurologists to follow patients long-distance as they recover from stroke symptoms.

And because the telestroke consulting service brings stroke fellowship-trained neurologists into the mix in situations where emergency room doctors might hesitate to act, the quality of stroke treatment throughout the state is likely to improve, Girotra says.

"There's a definite benefit to having telestroke service for these small hospitals," he says. "It gives us an advantage to help New Mexico, which has lagged behind in improvement in stroke mortality compared to the rest of the country."

Categories: Community Engagement, Education, Health, News You Can Use, School of Medicine, Top Stories