OSF Saint James - John W. Albrecht Medical Center

Pontiac, Illinois

Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

Brain damage can begin within minutes, so it is important to know the symptoms of stroke.

Stroke Warning Signs

Symptoms of stroke include:

  • Sudden weakness; paralysis; or numbness of face, arm, and leg on one side of the body
  • Difficulty speaking or loss of speech; inability to understand speech
  • Blurred, dimness in, or loss of vision, especially in one eye
  • Dizziness or loss of balance/coordination, especially if associated with other neurological
    symptoms such as unsteady gait or sudden falls
  • Sudden, severe headache often described as “the worst headache of your life”

Types of Strokes

There are two main types of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic. Ischemic stroke makes up approximately 88 percent of strokes. It develops when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel in the brain. The clot may form in the blood vessel or travel from somewhere else in the blood system. They are the most common type of stroke in older adults.

Ischemic Strokes

Ischemic strokes can be treated by a clot-buster drug called activase or tissue plasminogen activator (t-PA). Activase or t-PA is used to improve neurological recovery and reduce the incidence of disability. This treatment should be initiated within three hours after the onset of stroke symptoms, and after a brain hemorrhage can be ruled out by a computerized tomography (CT) scan.

Hemorrhagic Strokes

A hemorrhagic stroke develops when an artery in the brain leaks or bursts. This causes bleeding inside the brain or near the surface of the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes are less common, but are more deadly than ischemic strokes.

A hemorrhagic stroke can be hard to treat. Doctors may do surgery or other treatments to stop bleeding or reduce pressure on the brain. Medicines may be used to control blood pressure, brain swelling, and other problems.

The biggest barrier in treating stroke patients is that patients do not arrive in time to undergo the proper treatment. Less than 5 percent of patients having a stroke seek treatment immediately.

Families and patients should call 9-1-1 immediately when they notice any changes or symptoms that may be contributed to a stroke. Time is of the essence and restoring blood flow is an emergency.

Quick treatment can help limit damage to the brain and increase the chance of a full recovery.

Stroke Treatment Options

Intravenous Activase (tPA)

Intravenous Activase is the first choice of treatment for ischemic stroke patients. This treatment should only be initiated within three hours after the onset of stroke symptoms.

It should also only be used after intracranial hemorrhage is ruled out by a cranial computerized tomography (CT) scan or other diagnostic imaging method sensitive for the presence of hemorrhage.

Intra-arterial Activase (tPA), Thrombectomy, and Angioplasty

Intra-arterial Activase (tPA) and thrombectomy are possible treatments if the stroke patient's cerebral angiogram shows they have any blood clots.

Intra-arterial Activase (tPA) and Thrombectomy treatments will remove any existing blood clots using various types of catheters. In addition, patients may undergo angioplasty which dilates the blood vessels along with having stents put in.

Coil Embolization

In addition to treating a hemorrhagic stroke with surgery and medical treatment, possible embolization or placing of coils can be done. In the case of a brain aneurysm, this treatment is called coil embolization, or "coiling."

Coiling does not require open surgery. Instead, physicians use real-time X-ray technology, called fluoroscopic imaging, to visualize the patient's vascular system and treat the disease from inside the blood vessel.

Wingspan™ Stent System

The device, called the Wingspan™ Stent System, is specifically designed to treat blockages in the brain caused by intracranial atherosclerotic disease, a condition that causes strokes in approximately 60,000 Americans each year.

Physicians use a minimally invasive technique to deploy the stent inside the brain. The Wingspan™ Stent, is a self-expanding, metal mesh in the shape of a tube.

By conforming to the inside contour of the artery wall, the stent provides a barrier to reduce the risk of recurrent blockages that have been stented.

OSF St. Joseph Medical Center is the only hospital in Bloomington-Normal able to accommodate this procedure using the Wingspan™ Stent.

Solitaire FR Revascularization Device

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The Solitaire FR revascularization device is designed to remove blood clots through the use of a stent in a tiny microcatheter, routed up through the patient’s groin to where the blockage is located in the brain.

There, it removes the clot and restores blood flow in patients suffering from an acute ischemic stroke. Its purpose is to minimize brain damage from lack of oxygen in patients for whom clot-dissolving medications are not advisable.

Merci Retrieval System

Before the FDA approved Solitaire FR, the standard device for clot removal was the Merci Retrieval system, which was a major step forward in stroke treatment when it was approved for US use in 2004. The Merci system also uses a stent in a microcatheter, snaring clots in a corkscrew-like manner.

The Solitaire FR design improves on that of the Merci, using a stent with a mesh of tiny wires that pierce through and expand around both sides of a clot, trapping it in the middle. The clot can then be suctioned out of the blood vessel and into the microcatheter for removal.

Stroke Prevention

Stroke is preventable. Making the following lifestyle choices could reduce your risk for stroke.

  • Don’t smoke. Smoking can more than double your risk of stroke.
  • Follow physician recommendations for diabetes management.
  • Become familiar with your family history.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet that includes plenty of fish, fruits, vegetables, beans, high-fiber grains and breads, and olive oil. Also, limit your sodium intake.

  • Engage in moderate activity at least two and a half hours per week.

  • Stay at a healthy weight, and control your cholesterol and blood pressure by taking prescribed medication.

  • Limit alcohol. Having more than one drink a day (if you are female) or more than two drinks a day (if you are male) increases the risk of stroke.

  • If your doctor advises, take a daily aspirin or other medicines.

Contact Us

For more information, please contact the Neuroscience Leader at (309) 661-4904.