Dr. Alex Chebl is the director of the division of vascular neurology for Henry Ford Health System and the director of Henry Ford Hospital’s comprehensive stroke center.
WEST BLOOMFIELD — According to Dr. Alex Chebl, who is the director of the division of vascular neurology for Henry Ford Health System and the director of Henry Ford Hospital’s comprehensive stroke center, “stroke is the most important disease known to mankind.”
He shared his reasoning for that perspective.
“Stroke takes away your humanity in an instant,” Chebl said. “If you have a heart attack, it’s a terrible thing, but if you survive, you fundamentally remain the same person you were. But a stroke takes away your independence, your ability to talk, communicate, understand; so that’s why it’s so important.”
According to stroke.org, stroke is a disease that affects the arteries leading to and within the brain.
It can be caused either by a clot obstructing the flow of blood to the brain, called an ischemic stroke, or by a blood vessel rupturing and preventing blood flow to the brain, which is called a hemorrhagic stroke.
According to a release, all five of Henry Ford Health System’s hospitals that are equipped to treat stroke recently earned an American Heart Association/American Stroke Association Get with the Guidelines recognition, which “recognizes the hospitals’ commitment to ensuring stroke patients receive the most appropriate treatment according to nationally recognized, research-based guidelines based on the latest scientific evidence.”
Megan Brady, who is the program manager for Henry Ford’s comprehensive stroke center in Detroit, said the hospital’s West Bloomfield location earned a Gold-Plus, which is the highest level there is for stroke quality.
Three of the hospital’s other locations earned the same accolade.
From Brady’s perspective, stroke is a topic that warrants more attention.
“Stroke is one of the leading causes of disability,” she said. “I believe it’s the fifth (leading) cause of death. I think what people don’t realize sometimes is people that survive a stroke often will experience ongoing disabilities.”
Brady has ample reason for being a proponent of more attention being paid to strokes.
“With stroke, it’s really crucial to come in as quickly as possible,” she said. “I do think stroke deserves more attention, just due to the fact that, first of all, it’s prevalent, but also that we can do something about it — but within a certain time window.”
How quickly someone gets treated after having a stroke can make a big difference when it comes to the potential for a healthy recovery.
“Our treatments are effective,” Chebl said. “But we still only treat about 10% of patients because most patients arrive too late to the hospital for us to be able to do anything. So, time is critical. … For every one minute delay of a stroke, a person can lose up to 10 days of disability-free survival. So, that means if (there’s) a 10-minute delay, the average person loses 100 days of their life free of disability. So, you can imagine what an hour or a five-hour delay would do.”
Recognizing the signs of a stroke is key when it comes to timely treatment.
Those signs can be simplified by remembering the acronym FAST.
The F is for face drooping, the A for arm weakness, the S for speech difficulty — such as slurred speech or an inability to speak — and T is for time — time to call 911.
“One of the things we like to highlight is the importance of getting emergency assistance,” Brady said. “It’s not driving yourself to the emergency department or asking someone to pick you up, but it is calling 911, because what an ambulance can do is call ahead to the emergency department to say they think they have a patient who’s experiencing a stroke, and we can organize ourselves to meet that patient at the door and get everything worked up as quickly as possible, because with stroke, time is important to good outcomes, and an ambulance can get there very quickly.”
High blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity are among the risk factors for stroke.
“Patients need to be aware of their risk factors, get those treated,” Chebl said. “They need to be aware of what the symptoms of stroke are, and if they suspect anyone — themselves or anyone they know or love — is having a stroke, to call 911. That’s the most critical thing, 911. … It sets in motion this gigantic machine that is all set to take care of that patient and make sure we minimize brain injury.”
Of the risk factors for stroke, Chebl cited one in particular that can be troubling.
“If you were to pick one single thing that you can do to (prevent) stroke, get your blood pressure under control,” he said. “Hypertension is responsible for stroke, heart attack, kidney disease, etc. … If you smoke, stop smoking. Smoking is a major risk factor for stroke.”
Chebl said drugs such as opioids and amphetamines can also cause a stroke.
Living a healthy lifestyle can help reduce the impact of a stroke.
“Being physically fit and mentally fit gives you reserves if you do have a stroke,” Chebl said. “You’re able to recover better, and if your brain works better to begin with, if you have a stroke, you’re less likely to be disabled or develop dementia.”
Chebl said stroke and heart disease are generally considered “diseases of the elderly.”
However, they can also affect younger adults, and on the rare occasion, even teenagers.
“We see quite a bit of stroke in those in their 50s and 60s, partly because of the American lifestyle, the foods that we eat,” Chebl said.
The after-effects for those who survive a stroke can include weakness or numbness on one side of the body or the other, difficulty swallowing or speaking, blindness on one or both sides, trouble walking and impaired cognition, such as not being able to dial a phone or use a computer.
Chebl said 25%-30% of people who have a stroke are severely disabled, but others can recover and go back to living a normal lifestyle.
“Our treatments have really had an impact on mortality,” Chebl said. “We’re making headway.”