Spectrum Health Offers Stroke Response Tips

May is National Stroke Awareness Month. Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and a leading cause of serious, long-term disability.

Depending on where in the brain it occurs and how soon treatment is sought, the effects of a stroke may be very different.

“When you or a loved one suffers a stroke, it can be a frightening and overwhelming experience,” said Timothy K. Thoits, MD, neurologist, Spectrum Health Medical Group. “It is possible to reduce the damage caused by the most common type of stroke but only if treatment is given quickly. That’s why it is crucial patients get to a hospital immediately after experiencing symptoms of a stroke.”

In recognition of Stroke Awareness Month, the American Stroke Association is promoting the “FAST” message to help the public easily recall stroke symptoms and know what to do:

  • Face – Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • Arms – Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech – Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
  • Time – If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.

According to Dr. Thoits, a stroke is “just as serious as a heart attack.”

A stroke occurs most often when blood flow to the brain stops because it is blocked by a clot. The brain cells in the immediate area begin to die because they stop getting the oxygen and nutrients they need to function. This type of stroke is called ischemic stroke. Patients can also suffer from a hemorrhagic stroke that is caused by a blood vessel that breaks and bleeds in the brain.

Regardless of the type of stroke, patients need to be able to recognize the symptoms of a stroke, says Dr. Thoits.

Those symptoms include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

“Spectrum Health’s stroke response team includes physicians, neurologists, pharmacists and emergency department staff,” said Dr. Thoits. “The response team helps to determine if a stroke patient arriving in emergency is a candidate for medications or interventions that can help prevent stroke disabilities.”

Spectrum Health Butterworth and Blodgett hospitals are certified primary stroke centers and provide prompt stroke patient care, including advanced treatment options as well as other defined standards of The Joint Commission, the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association. Spectrum Health also has an online stroke risk assessment posted at for people who want to learn their personal risk factors and what they can do to prevent stroke. More information about stroke is available at

Spectrum Health is a not-for-profit health system in West Michigan offering a full continuum of care through the Spectrum Health Hospital Group, which is comprised of nine hospitals including Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital; 130 ambulatory and service sites; the Spectrum Health Medical Group and West Michigan Heart, physician groups totaling 751 providers; and Priority Health, a health plan with 600,000 members. Spectrum Health is West Michigan’s largest employer with 19,100 employees. The organization provided $204 million in community benefit during its 2012 fiscal year.