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Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
Dr. Libby Sunderman at the Intermountain Medical Center emergency room in Murray Tuesday, May 8, 2012.

SALT LAKE CITY — Many people don't know what they are experiencing, but it is clear that something is different.

It may be a weakness on one side of the body, slurring or the inability to speak, a sudden change in vision, inability to walk or a drooping side of the face, but it comes on quickly and is definitely noticeable.

It is a stroke, and Dr. Elizabeth Sunderman said it is "a medical emergency" that should be treated accordingly.

"A stroke is a major cause of death and disability, but there is a lot that we can do, and we can prevent death and disability in many cases," she said. Sunderman, a neurohospitalist at Intermountain Medical Center, specializes in the care of patients admitted to the hospital with various nervous system disorders, strokes being the most common.

Getting to the hospital in a timely manner is the most crucial part of treating a stroke, Sunderman said. The sooner the better, as a beneficial medication can only be administered within about three hours of the onset of symptoms.

"It's amazing how it makes a difference for our patients and improves their outcomes," she said. The medication, tissue plasminogen activator or TPA, helps to dissolve blood clots in the brain, which cause a stroke.

The clots prohibit blood from getting to various neurons in the brain, killing them after long and leading to permanent brain damage.

"About 32,000 brain cells die every second during a stroke and once they are dead, they don't come back. TPA works to restore blood flow to the parts of the brain that still have a chance," said Kelly Anderson, stroke program coordinator for Intermountain's Salt Lake region.

"An important part of your brain could die while you are waiting for treatment," Anderson said.

Anderson and Sunderman will be featured on Saturday's Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Hotline. The two will answer questions from the public on the signs, symptoms and treatment of brain attacks. From 10 a.m. until noon, people can call 1-800-925-8177 or post questions on the Deseret News' Facebook page, www.facebook.com/desnews.

Results of a stroke could include weakness, numbness and changes in the ability to think, Sunderman said. "It can make people disabled basically.

"It's a brain injury and the brain recovers slowly and it takes a lot of work for patients to recover," she said, adding that some make miraculous recoveries within days, others take months and some never regain neurological independence.

"Most people go into medicine to help people," Sunderman said. "I enjoy the opportunity to make a difference and improve the lives of patients and this is an area where we are really making a difference and seeing the successes."

Saturday: A look at ways to reduce the risk of stroke

Hotline Saturday

The Deseret News/Intermountain Healthcare Hotline focuses on the signs, symptoms and treatment of stroke. From 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Dr. Elizabeth Sunderman and Kelly Anderson, both of Intermountain Medical Center's stroke program, will answer questions. Call 1-800-925-8177, toll-free. Anyone can also post questions during that time on the Deseret News Facebook page, www.facebook.com/desnews, and the doctors will do their best to answer them.

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