Doctors Have a Phrase They Think Is as Important as Knowing 911

Armen Hareyan's picture

Symptoms of Stroke

Time is Brain. The phrase means if you or a loved one is having a stroke, there is a very limited amount of time to get to be treated before an onset of permanent problems can set in.

Abdullah Nassief, MD, is director of the stroke center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. His stroke center coined the term in the mid-90's and it has now gone nationwide. Dr. Nassief says there's a greater emphasis on stroke by emergency personnel, who a decade ago, didn't treat stroke as quickly.

"It was an interesting shift," says Dr. Nassief. "You went from stroke, which basically people used to view as a non emergency, this person had a stroke there is nothing that we can do for them, to where this is an ultra emergency just like a heart attack. Because of this shift, patients will now have a team that is ready to take care of them once they walk in the door."

His team at Barnes-Jewish and Washington University School of Medicine is part of a growing number of stroke centers in the country. Certified stroke centers are trained in using the drug that helps stroke patients quickly called tPA: a drug that uses an enzyme in your own blood to dissolve the clot causing the stroke. Dr. Nassief says its FDA-approval in 1995, revolutionized stroke treatment.


"If you get to patients within three to six hours, you give them tPA that dissolves the clot and basically one out of every eight patients you can cure, one out of every four patients you can make them independent allowing them to go back home," says Dr. Nassief. "So 50 percent of those patients you can help."

However, not all hospitals are trained at using tPA, and most people do not know if their hospital uses the drug or not. To avoid that issue, Dr. Nassief says if you think you are having a stroke, don't have a friend or loved one drive you blindly to a hospital. He says call 911 and wait for an ambulance, don't wait for the problem to clear up on its own.

"It's really disheartening when you have someone that tells you my arm or my leg was numb and it was numb for two days," he says. "I'll ask 'What did you think it was?' 'Well I thought it was nothing, since it didn't get better for two days I thought I should check it out.' That's really frustrating because we know we could've helped them if they came to our service earlier."

For these reasons, Dr. Nassief emphasizes the importance of recognizing the signs of stroke:

  • A sudden thunder-like headache
  • A sudden change in vision with potential inability to see on either side
  • A sudden onset of weakness in either arms or legs
  • The sudden onset of slurred speech
  • A sudden onset of inability to walk properly
  • Sudden loss of the ability to communicate

He says knowing these signs and the urgency behind them could save people from the damaging effects of stroke. After all, "Time is Brain."