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Think strokes just happen to senior adults? Not anymore

When someone has a stroke, every second that blood flow is deprived results in the death of 32,000 nerve cells – that’s 1.9 million per minute, according to John McBurney, Medical Director of the Bon Secours St. Francis Stroke Program. 

“In some age groups, like in young adults, the incidence seems to be increasing dramatically,” McBurney said. 

From 2000 – 2010, ages 25 – 40 had a 40 percent increase in strokes in men and a 30 percent increase in women. McBurney said the increase may stem at least in part from increased rates of obesity and related health problems in children, which pediatricians began to note in the late 1990s. The consequences of childhood obesity develop slowly. 

“All of these we’re observing, they have a long time to play out but they do play out,” he said. “The bills come due. The complications of obesity are a function of the severity of the obesity and how early it starts. If obesity begins in childhood, it has a much greater impact on long-term health than obesity that starts at middle age or older.”

McBurney said the healthcare team at Bon Secours St. Francis Health System is using artificial intelligence to save valuable time in stroke treatment. A mobile device-based communication and image processing software service quickly analyzes complex imaging data and communicates that to the stroke team. The data can be thousands of image slices from a CT scan.

“We get the information quicker than the radiologist does,” McBurney said. 

Members of the stroke team get a phone alert similar to an Amber Alert so they can quickly assemble, address the blockage and restore critical blood flow to the brain. 

“It saves a lot of time,” he said. 

McBurney said stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States but the number one cause of long-term disability. 

“If this hasn’t happened to a family member, they may not be aware of just how significant the impact of stroke-caused long-term disability actually is,” he said. 

Critically important in the time sensitivity of stroke treatment is the use of a “clot-busting” drug that can be very effective, especially in smaller blockages. McBurney said it must be given within 4½ hours of the onset of symptoms, but sooner is better. In the era of COVID-19, which has stroke as one of its potential complications, McBurney said patients should not delay seeking help because they are worried about getting sick.

“Don’t let fear keep you from seeking treatment for stroke symptoms,” he said.

Take note:

Treat stroke symptoms as a medical emergency and call 911. Use the acronym BE FAST to help you remember.

B – Balance is affected

E – Eyes can have loss of vision or double vision

F – Facial drooping

A – Arm weakness

S – Speech is slurred or the person is unable to speak

T – Time to call 911

Learn more about stroke symptoms and how to prevent a stroke at