signs of a stroke

Podcast: Find out why UK stroke expert says ‘time is brain’

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When someone suffers a stroke, getting treatment as soon as possible can make a huge difference in survival and recovery.

At UK HealthCare, we offer treatment, prevention, research and rehabilitation for stroke patients. Our experienced experts use leading-edge technology and clot-busting drugs to provide personalized care for each patient. We are available 24 hours a day to treat patients immediately, before strokes cause brain damage.

Dr. Justin Fraser

Dr. Justin Fraser

We sat down with Dr. Justin Fraser, surgical director of the UK Comprehensive Stroke Center, to learn more about the signs of a stroke and why it’s so important to seek medical care as quickly as possible if you suspect you or a loved one is having a stroke.

“When people say time is brain, it’s a short little phrase, but it actually means something real,” Fraser said. “It means you’re actually losing brain tissue as that time ticks by [after a stroke occurs].”

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healthy heart

10 things you can do for your heart

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States, and it’s the second-leading cause of death in Kentucky. Here are 10 things you can do to keep your heart healthy.

1. Know your numbers: Your blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol and body weight reveal a lot about how likely you are to develop heart problems. This guide shows the basics of what your numbers mean. Here are two ways to get them:

  • Your doctor can record them at your next checkup.
  • Watch for free health screenings (pharmacies – including those at department stores and grocery stores – as well as hospitals sometimes offer these; googling “free health screening” followed by your city is a good place to start).

2. Learn your family history: If a close relative has had heart trouble, you are more likely to have it. Find out whether your brothers, sisters, parents or grandparents have had heart disease and how old they were when they developed it, and share that information with your doctor.

3. Exercise: A good goal to start with is 30 minutes a day, five days a week, of moderate intensity aerobic exercise such as brisk walking, ballroom dancing, bicycling, doubles tennis or water aerobics. You can get more benefits if you add muscle-strengthening activity twice a week through weightlifting or calisthenics (pushups, pullups and situps, for example).

4. Eat well: A diet low in saturated fats (from animal products – meat and dairy) and trans fats (found in fried foods and baked goods) helps reduce the risk of high LDL blood cholesterol. The DASH diet is easy to follow and good for you.

5. Quit smoking and avoid secondhand smoke: Check out these 11 strategies.

6. Get enough sleep: Those who don’t sleep enough are at higher risk for cardiovascular disease. How much sleep do you need? This is a good place to find answers. Also, UK HealthCare’s Dr. Zoran Danov offers tips for how to sleep better.

7. Reduce stress: Slowing down, staying organized, exercising and sleeping well can all help. Dr. John A. Patterson recommends mindful breathing.

8. Control high blood pressure: High blood pressure weakens the arteries to the heart. Dr. Khaled Ziada, an interventional cardiologist at the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute, explains how to manage it.

9. Reduce belly fat: Abdominal fat has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease (it’s not just how much weight you’re carrying but where you carry it, studies have concluded).

10. Take it easy on the alcohol: An average of one to two drinks per day for men and one per day for women is fine, but more than that can lead to higher fat levels in the blood as well as obesity. Binge drinking can damage the heart muscle.

Next steps:

  • The UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute is at the forefront of the battle against heart disease in Kentucky. Learn more about what we’re doing to treat and prevent cardiovascular disease.
  • Heart health also affects your risk for stroke. At UK HealthCare, we’re on a mission to change stroke care forever. Learn more about our Comprehensive Stroke Center.
thrombectomy Dr. Justin Fraser

Watch: UK stroke expert explains how thrombectomy is saving lives

When an ischemic stroke occurs, a blood clot blocks blood flow to the brain, causing brain cells to die and potentially affecting areas of the brain that control things like memory or muscle control.

One way to treat stroke is by performing a thrombectomy. It’s an advanced procedure that’s revolutionizing stroke care because of its ability to not only successfully treat severe strokes, but also help patients achieve better outcomes after a stroke occurs.

And it’s performed right here at the UK Comprehensive Stroke Center.

How thrombectomy works

During a thrombectomy, a doctor creates an incision near the patient’s groin and then threads a catheter (a small, hollow tube) through the patient’s arteries, into the brain.

Then, a wire-mesh device pushed through the catheter can grab and remove the clot, allowing blood flow to return.

“I like to say it’s like glorified plumbing, so to speak,” said Dr. Justin Fraser, surgical director of the UK Comprehensive Stroke Center. “So just like you could snake the plumbing in your house when it gets clogged up, it’s like a similar procedure in the brain.”

Check out our video interview with Dr. Fraser, where he tells us more about how thrombectomy has changed the way stroke is treated and what experts at the UK Comprehensive Stroke Center are doing to make the procedure even better. 

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women and stroke

Believe it or not, stroke is a woman’s disease

Dr. Larry Goldstein

Dr. Larry Goldstein

Written by Dr. Larry Goldstein, co-director of the Kentucky Neuroscience Institute.

It’s commonly thought of as a problem primarily affecting older men, but stroke is a woman’s disease.

About 60 percent of deaths related to stroke in the United States occur in women, and the lifetime risk of stroke is higher in women (about one in five) compared to men (about one in six) for those aged 55 to 75 years.

The good news is that stroke can often be prevented.

Risk factors unique to women

Although men and women have several stroke risk factors in common, such as high blood pressure (normal is less than 120/80 mmHg), diabetes, cigarette smoking, obesity, atrial fibrillation (an irregular heartbeat also know as Afib), excessive alcohol consumption, poor diet or lack of regular exercise, several risk factors are unique to women.

Stroke risk can be increased during pregnancy, which explains why women of childbearing age have a higher stroke risk compared to men of the same age.

Migraine with aura (for example, seeing sparkling or zigzag lights) is also associated with a higher stroke risk, particularly among women who smoke or use oral contraceptives.

Women who have had eclampsia or pre-eclampsia associated with pregnancy (high blood pressure, protein in the urine, and in the case of eclampsia, seizures) are at increased risk of stroke up to 30 years later.

What can women do to reduce their stroke risk?

  • Adopt a healthy diet such as the DASH or Mediterranean diet.
  • Try to get regular exercise for 20-30 minutes most days of the week.
  • Limit yourself to no more than one alcoholic drink per day (and of course, no alcohol during pregnancy).
  • Quit smoking and avoid exposure to tobacco smoke
  • Have your blood pressure checked regularly.

Talk to your healthcare provider about reducing your stroke risk if you:

  • Have migraines, particularly migraines with aura.
  • Have ever had eclampsia or pre-eclampsia.

Memorize some common stroke symptoms using the BE-FAST* acronym:

Balance – Does the person have trouble walking or standing?

Eyes – Are there any changes to eyesight, such as blurry vision?

Face – Do the eyes or mouth appear to be drooping?

Arms – Does the person complain of arm weakness?

Speech – Does the person slur their speech or mix up words?

Time – If any of those signs are present, it’s time to call 911.

If you or someone you are with show any of the above symptoms, call 911. It’s better to have a false alarm than to delay any treatment.

*BE-FAST was developed by Intermountain Healthcare, as an adaptation of the FAST model implemented by the American Stroke Association. Reproduced with permission from Intermountain Healthcare. Copyright 2011, Intermountain Healthcare.

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Stroke can devastate lives. This is what we’re doing to change that.

Did you catch our new TV spot, which debuted during the Super Bowl?

It’s all about how we’re revolutionizing stroke treatment in Kentucky – and for patients everywhere.

Our stroke physicians and researchers are hot on the trail of new treatments that don’t just stop stroke in its tracks – they help reverse the damage that’s already happened in the brain. And these treatments are available now – only at UK HealthCare.

Stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death in Kentucky and in the United States, and until now, those who did survive were often severely disabled. They may have lived, but the stroke changed their lives forever.

These new treatments are working to change that, to not just save lives from stroke but to restore those lives to what they were before and get people back to living and doing the things they love.

We’re incredibly proud of the new TV spot, but there’s so much more to the story that we just couldn’t fit into 60 seconds. Visit our website to see videos from our stroke experts, learn more about our Comprehensive Stroke Center status and why it matters, and to learn what you can do to help prevent stroke in yourself or others.

When a stroke happens, getting help fast can make all the difference. But so can getting that help at a hospital that’s on the leading edge of advances in stroke treatment.

Through education, prevention, treatment and research, together we can stop the scourge of stroke in Kentucky. It’s our mission.

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Know the stroke risk factors you can control – and those you can’t

From your blood pressure and cholesterol level to your family history and current lifestyle, there are plenty of factors that can indicate whether you’re at risk for a stroke.

Factors you can control

Alcohol: Drinking too much can cause other health problems that contribute to stroke risk, such as high blood pressure and obesity. If you do decide to have a drink, limit yourself to one per day. That means no more than 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of table wine or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.

Atrial fibrillation (AFib): AFib is a type of irregular heartbeat. If you’ve been diagnosed with AFib, be sure to talk with your doctor about strategies to control it. Uncontrolled AFib increases your risk of stroke by four to five times.

Blood pressure: High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke. If your blood pressure is high, it might be related to your family history. The good news is diet, exercise and medication can help you bring your high blood pressure under control.

Cholesterol: Like blood pressure, high cholesterol can be reduced through medication and lifestyle changes.

Diet: Consider adopting a diet low in salt and low in fat, which can lower your risk of stroke.

Exercise: Recent research shows that regular exercise can cut your risk of stroke by more than 25 percent. Try to get 30-60 minutes of exercise each day. Exercise doesn’t have to be complicated – add more movement to your daily routine with these easy tips.

Obesity and diabetes: Obesity and diabetes greatly increase your risk for stroke. Lifestyle changes, such as improved diet and increased exercise, can reverse both of these problems.

Smoking: Smoking places you at a significantly higher risk of stroke than non-smokers: If you smoke two packs a day, you are six times more likely to have a stroke than a non-smoker. Ask your doctor for resources to help you quit.

Factors you cannot control

Your age and sex: As you grow older, your risk of stroke and heart disease begins to increase and keeps increasing with age. Overall, more women than men have a stroke, but at younger ages, stroke incidence is actually higher in men than women.

Your family history: Find out if any of your family members have had a stroke in the past. You have a greater risk of stroke if any of your close blood relatives have had a stroke.

Your personal history: If you’ve had a previous transient ischemic attack (TIA), you’re at a higher risk of a future stroke.

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Get moving to lower your stroke risk

Recent research shows that regular exercise can cut your risk of stroke by more than 25 percent. Even moderate exercise increases cerebral blood flow, which improves the function and health of your brain.

Any form of exercise will do – the key is to increase your heart rate and push yourself to feel at least a little warm and a little out of breath.

You should aim for 30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity five or more times a week – if you don’t have time for a half-hour all at once, don’t worry – you can break it up into smaller blocks of time throughout the day.

Here are some easy ways to add physical activity to your day:

  • Take the scenic route at work. Park farther away in the parking lot and take the stairs instead of the elevator. You can park farther away when shopping or running errands, too.
  • Take your dog for a walk.
  • Instead of standing around and waiting – like when you’re waiting to board a flight or waiting for your kids to finish practice – use the time to take a walk.
  • Plan fun activities that get you moving – like dancing or playing with your kids.
  • Turn household chores into exercise – from cleaning your house to gardening and yardwork. Just make sure you move quickly enough to get your heart rate up.

If you haven’t been active recently, or if you’re over 40 and have any medical conditions, be sure to speak to a doctor before you increase your physical activity.

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lower your risk of stroke

Want to lower your risk of stroke? Stop smoking.

If you’re a smoker, you already know there are lots of good reasons to quit.

But here’s one you might not know.

Smoking places you at a significantly higher risk of stroke than non-smokers: If you smoke two packs a day, you are six times more likely to have a stroke than a non-smoker.

And if you do have a stroke, you’re twice as likely to die from it.

One of the ways tobacco smoke affects the body is that it thickens the blood. This raises the risk of blood clots and of narrowing of the arteries. It also cuts down on the amount of oxygen in the blood, so that your heart has to work harder.

Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 toxic chemicals – 7,000 different poisons – including carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, arsenic and cyanide. When you smoke, these chemicals move from your lungs to your bloodstream, damaging cells throughout your body.

Smoking also affects cholesterol levels, increasing another stroke risk factor.

In turn, nicotine makes your heart beat faster and raises your blood pressure at the same time that carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood, another recipe for stroke.

But it’s not hopeless. If you quit now, the level of oxygen in your blood returns to normal in just eight hours, and in that same amount of time the carbon monoxide and nicotine levels in your blood fall by half. After just one year, your risk of heart attack and stroke are half that of a smoker.

The longer you stay away from smoking, the better your odds get of not having a stroke, and within 15 years your risk could be the same as any non-smoker.

Isn’t it worth quitting now?

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Timing is everything when it comes to a stroke

Dr. Michael Dobbs

Dr. Michael Dobbs

Written by Dr. Michael Dobbs, a stroke expert at the Kentucky Neuroscience Institute and the director of the UK HealthCare/Norton Healthcare Stroke Care Network

A sudden onset of blurred vision, slurred speech, or numbness or paralysis in the face, arm, or leg can be indications of a stroke.

Many people experiencing these symptoms wait to seek help, but this can be a fatal mistake: The risks of permanent damage or death increase the longer treatment is delayed. In fact, six million people die and five million more become permanently disabled because of a stroke each year.

Nationally, the number of stroke deaths has declined, but in Kentucky, strokes are increasing. Yet stroke is a largely preventable disease: keeping blood pressure, cholesterol, weight and/or diabetes in check can greatly reduce the risk.

When a stroke occurs, however, the most important factor is time.


Take preventive measures, know the symptoms and BE-FAST if you suspect a stroke.

Balance – Does the person have trouble walking or standing?

Eyes – Are there any changes to eyesight, such as blurry vision?

Face – Do the eyes or mouth appear to be drooping?

Arms – Does the person complain of arm weakness?

Speech – Does the person slur their speech or mix up words?

Time – If any of those signs are present, it’s time to call 911.

If you or someone you are with show any of the above symptoms, call 911. It’s better to have a false alarm than to delay any treatment.

As with any medical issue, prevention is key in avoiding a stroke. High blood pressure and cholesterol are two main risk factors. Engaging in regular physical exercise, quitting smoking, and cutting back on salty and/or fatty foods can make a big difference.

Stroke Care Network

The Stroke Care Network, a partnership between UK HealthCare and Norton Healthcare, is an affiliation of 34 regional hospitals dedicated to the highest-quality stroke care. Based on extensive research, the Stroke Care Network has developed a system of care that provides prompt diagnosis and treatment to minimize the damage a stroke can cause.

A key step in stroke diagnosis is a computerized tomography (CT) scan to find bleeding in the brain or damage to the brain cells. Since 2015, the time it takes to get a CT scan read by doctors and begin a treatment plan has decreased from 52 minutes to 39 minutes in a Stroke Care Network hospital. Clot-busting medication may reduce long-term disability, but is only available within a few hours of the first symptom.

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Do you know what a stroke is?

A stroke happens when an artery that carries blood from the heart to the brain bursts or is blocked. This means that part of the brain does not get the blood and nutrients it needs, so it starts to die. When this happens, abilities caused by that area of the brain, like memory or muscle control, are lost. There are three main types of stroke.

Ischemic stroke is the most common. It happens when an artery in the brain is blocked, and there are two types:

  1. Embolic stroke is when a blood clot or plaque forms and moves through the arteries to the brain. Once in the brain, the clot blocks a blood vessel and leads to a stroke.
  2. Thrombotic stroke is when a blood clot forms inside an artery that takes blood to the brain. This interrupts blood flow and causes a stroke.

Hemorrhagic stroke, less common than ischemic stroke, happens when a blood vessel in the brain bursts and spills blood in or around the brain. There are two main types:

  1. Intracerebral hemorrhage is when a burst blood vessel bleeds into brain tissue. This causes brain cells to die and part of the brain to stop working correctly.
  2. Subarachnoid hemorrhage is when a blood vessel bursts near the surface of the brain and blood leaks in between the brain and the skull.

A transient ischemic attack (TIA), or mini-stroke, happens if an artery in the brain or one that goes to the brain is blocked for a short time. This causes temporary numbness, weakness or loss of vision, and it might cause trouble speaking or loss of balance.

Even though blood flow to the brain is only blocked for a short time – usually no more than 5 minutes, a TIA is a medical emergency and a serious warning sign that you might have a stroke.

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