Taking action to prevent stroke Taking action to prevent stroke

Stroke prevention is as simple as practicing healthy life habits.

Medical Advisor: Alfredo Villa. Vascular neurologist, practitioner at Coomeva Private Healthcare

With stroke, always remember the number four. There are four warning signs that can help you identify stroke on time, and only when medical attention is sought in the four and a half hours following the onset of symptoms can you reduce the consequences of its aftermath.

In Colombia, it is estimated that 38% of patients are not familiar with the symptoms of stroke and only 40% of symptomatic patients call an emergency response line. This low awareness increases the mortality rates of stroke which is why the Colombian Association of Neurology (CAN) is joining an initiative of a group of organizations from around the world to reduce this rate. This initiative promotes using the term FAST (see Helpful tip, “What is FAST?”) to identify symptoms and save lives.

As vascular neurologist Luis Alfredo Villa explains, all these symptoms occur suddenly and patients may experience just one of them, “A person can be just fine, and from one moment to the next, their body can experience a loss in its ability to function. Whether this means problems with balance, walking, vision problems, communication problems or if they become paralyzed on one side, all these are very clear signs of stroke.”

It is critical to find medical attention in the four and a half hours following the onset of these signs. Villa warns that after this period, nothing can be done for the patient and the consequences are irreversible: vision loss, loss of the ability to communicate and loss of movement on one side of the body or complete paralysis.

What is a CVA?
A cerebrovascular accident (CVA), also known as a stroke, is a group of diseases that affect the blood vessels supplying blood to the brain. A CVA can occur for two reasons: an artery can be clogged, also known as thrombosis, or a blood vessel can burst, referred commonly to as a brain hemorrhage. CVA occurs when a part of the brain is cut off from the blood flow, causing nerve cells or neurons to die.

“Eighty-five percent of cerebrovascular accidents are caused by thrombosis, which is a blood clot that originates from a blood vessel in the heart or from the blood itself. This can interrupt blood flow to the brain and can block large, medium-sized or small vessels. Fifteen percent of CVAs are the result of brain hemorrhages,” Villa explains.
According to the CAN, in Colombia, a first-time cerebrovascular accident occurs in 90 of every 100,000 people a year, the most greatly affected population being women over age 60. A CVA may happen to anyone and at any age, however. Statistics also show that of every 10 people that have had or have almost had a CVA, one person has another one within a month; between one and two people have one with in the first year; and between three and five people within the following five years.

Cerebrovascular accidents are a critical and complex medical emergency. When a person is treated successfully, they are considered to have regained their ability to function and the side effects of the stroke have been reduced. Successful treatment also depends on whether the patient receives timely medical attention and thrombolytic therapy, which helps unblock the artery either with a special substance that breaks down the thrombus, or with an intravascular device that can mechanically trap, extract or aspirate it.

Stroke can be prevented
The statistics are striking. According to the Colombian Association of Neurology, 25 of every 100 people that have a severe cerebrovascular accident do not survive. One of every six people may have a stroke throughout their lives. Throughout the world, it is estimated that a stroke occurs every two seconds, and every six seconds someone dies as a result of it. In Colombia, close to 45,000 people experience stroke each year.

The question is, how can stroke be prevented? The best way to reduce the chances of having one and to reduce its impact on a patient’s quality of life is to modify its risk factors or conditions such as: high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, being overweight, physical inactivity, heart disease, tobacco use, and alcohol and substance abuse. The overall key is to lead a healthy lifestyle.

“We must address strokes and recognize that they can be treated. If we are aware of the symptoms of this condition, if healthcare professionals can act immediately and if healthcare authorities provide us with the tools we need, we can expect better treatment and outcomes for our patients,” states Carlos Eduardo Rivera Ordoñez, coordinator of the CVA committee and of the CAN.

What is FAST? Know the symptoms

1. FACE: droopiness or numbness on one side of the face, or difficulty smiling
2. ARM: loss of strength or the inability to keep the arm raised
3. SPEECH: difficulty speaking or slurred speech
4. TIME: act fast and immediately seek emergency medical attention

What to do during a stroke

  • Note the time of the onset of symptoms.
  • The person that calls or seeks out emergency services with the patient should know their medical history, and if possible, should be someone that was with them during the event.
  • Be familiar with the city’s hospitals that are “brain friendly” (level three care-providing facilities).

Other key symptoms

  • Weakness or sudden numbness on one side of the body.
  • Sudden difficulty walking, intense nausea, falling or lack of coordination.
  • Sudden loss of vision in one eye.
  • An intense headache, often described as the “worst
    headache” of their life.
  • Changes of alertness, loss of knowledge.


High blood pressure is the main risk factor of stroke. Others include irregular heartbeats, diabetes and a family history of the condition.