AUSTIN -- Doctors are using better technology, treatment and public awareness to better prevent strokes entirely or diagnose what caused them in the first place, so much so stroke is now the fifth-leading cause of death in the U.S.
"I am in good health," said Martha Black of Austin. "I eat well. I exercise. I don't smoke. I don't drink much, and they're really trying to figure out why this happened."
A couple of weeks after a summer trip with her husband and daughter in the mountains of Colorado, Black awakened to a strange feeling.
"I had actually been having a dream in which I couldn't use my right arm," she said. "When I woke up I said, 'Boy this is some kind of dream,' because I still don't feel I can use my right arm."
She can laugh about it now, but her drooping arm coupled with slurred speech are classic signs of a stroke. Nearly 90 percent of all strokes are ischemic – when the vessel shuts down causing a lack of blood flow to the brain. The remaining strokes are hemorrhagic -- where a vessel bursts in the brain. Black had an ischemic stroke.
Dr. Jeff Miley is a vascular and interventional neurologist at the Seton Brain and Spine Institute. He says one of the keys to the recent drop in stroke deaths is what doctors learn after the initial stroke.
"Once they've have their first stroke is when we have that golden opportunity to look into their risk factors," said Miley. "Then we can figure out how we make them healthier by providing them different treatment options through different medications or surgeries."
Black says her treatment, including a clot busting drug in a clinical trial are the reasons she's living proof stroke deaths have been reduced.
"If all these things had not come together I would be disabled," said Black. "Now I'm back at work. I just went skiing last week."
Dr. Miley says the medical trials are proof the general public is becoming more aware about stroke prevention. He says half the patients get the medicine – the other half get placebos. Miley says over the years the placebo group has gotten healthier and healthier – an indication of the overall good health of the public in general.
Click here for more details from the American Heart Association.