Why strokes need a bigger PR budget

Types of Brain Strokes

Plus a new technology that will save time in the diagnoSIS and treatment of Strokes at Baptist Health South Florida

It happens fast. A stroke hits you and all of a sudden, every minute, second and millisecond counts. Why is time so critical to saving the life of a suspected stroke patient? Let’s learn a bit about what happens in the brain when an area is being deprived of the vital blood flow it needs to function.

According to a paper titled, Time is Brain – Quantified by Jeffrey L. Saver, MD, advanced imaging techniques were used to quantify the actual brain capacity loss due to a stroke and this is what they found – “Every minute in which a large vessel ischemic stroke is untreated, the average patient loses 1.9 million neurons, 13.8 billion synapses, and 7 miles of axonal fibers.” This means that every hour a stroke goes untreated, the brain accelerates its aging by 3.6 years. It gets worse as time progresses…

The most common type of stroke is when an area of the brain’s blood supply is being suddenly and abruptly blocked or reduced, most likely caused by a blood clot. This prevents the brain tissue in this area from getting the nutrients and oxygen it needs to stay alive. When that tissue dies, so do the billions of connections that control your memories, ability to speak, move or possibly worse, depending on the area of the brain where the blockage is occurring.

Every minute that passes, the damage caused by a stroke can go from treatable and reversible to permanent damage. To improve the odds, there is a low-tech approach and a high-tech approach. The low-tech approach was created to help people and first responders identify the symptoms of a stroke and it has saved countless lives.

Just as recently as 1998, a group of stroke physicians and first responders created an acronym to quickly diagnose a stroke patient. You’ve probably heard of it, it’s called FAST. What does it mean?

F is for Face – The doctors or emergency personnel ask the person to smile to see if one side of the face is drooping or if it feels numb. A telltale sign that something is wrong.

A is for Arm Weakness – By asking the patient to raise both arms to see if one arm drifts down, they can recognize which side the problem is on.

S is for Speech – If there is an inability to speak or slurred speech is another big alarm. Just asking the person to repeat a simple sentence will reveal if this is an issue.

T is for time – The most important part. If these symptoms above exist, it’s time to call 911 immediately.

The creation of this simple mnemonic technique has considerably improved the early diagnosis of a stroke but this is just the beginning. Even with a quick diagnosis, the ER doctors, and neurologists now have to become the fastest detectives in the universe since they need to identify the area of the brain that’s being blocked and remove the clot as soon as possible if that’s the case.

New Technology Speeds Up Diagnosis at Baptist Health

Miami Neuroscience Institute, a part of Baptist Health South Florida has implemented a new technology that’s a game-changer when it comes to speeding up the detection and treatment of strokes and it uses artificial intelligence (AI). Cue the high tech approach.

Doctors may be highly trained at detecting these types of blockages but computers and especially artificial intelligence are incredibly effective in detecting patterns in images. Why? Because to train an artificial intelligence system using machine learning of this kind, thousands of images and diagnostics are used, many more than any doctor has the ability to see in their lifetime, and as you can imagine, computers are very good at recognizing patterns.

Dr. Felipe De Los Rios, neurologist and medical director of the stroke program at Miami Neuroscience Institute, explains the technology that speeds up stroke diagnosis.

According to  Dr. Felipe De Los Rios, neurologist and medical director of the stroke program at Miami Neuroscience Institute, as soon as the patient undergoes the brain scan, this technology analyzes the images and detects where the blockage is happening. I know you are wondering… isn’t that what doctors are for? Good question but there is a catch, again, time.

Screenshot of the Artificial Intelligence tech used to automatically identify a stroke and notify the hospital’s on-call stroke medical team in just minutes.

The traditional sequence for a stroke used to be something like the patient with the suspected stroke goes to the CT scan where imaging is taken, that gets sent by the technicians to the radiologists, then it could go to the attending physician, then to the neurologist and finally to the interventional radiologists. As you can see, no matter how quickly this happens, there is a time factor involved here.

How is this AI technology better? Glad you asked. As soon as the patient is finished with the CT scan, the Viz.ai system ingests the image, starts processing using artificial intelligence and in 6 minutes, it sends the results to the stroke team on call simultaneously to the app on their phones, tablets and even smart watches. Once they receive the images, they can use the app to communicate with the ER and activate the stroke team on site. How cool is that? The best part is that this system is connected to the CT scanner so any patient that goes through it gets analyzed for a stroke, symptoms or not.

In the end, technology is accelerating time to treatment, increasing the precision of the diagnosis, and very much saving lives. Strokes are the leading cause of serious long term disability in the U.S. with approximately 800,000 people suffering a stroke yearly. In commemoration of Stroke Awareness Month, it’s important to recognize how critical strokes are, and hopefully one day, they’ll have the PR budget that heart attacks get, as they can be just as critical.

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