The message is clear: Strokes are the number one cause of disabilities

Stroke is the leading cause of disabilities in the United States. 

During Thursday’s Holy Rosary Healthcare (HRH) Healthy Living Luncheon, Dr. James Richards and Penny Clifton, stroke program coordinator at St. Vincent Healthcare, spoke to groups in Billings and Miles City over the telehealth network about strokes. 

A small group of six filed into HRH to tune in to the event from St. Vincent’s Healthcare in Billings. 

While the sound wasn’t the best, the message was clear. 

“Stroke is not the number one cause of mortality but it is the number one cause of disability,” Clifton said. 

According to Clifton, a stroke is a disease of the arteries in the brain. It’s the same disease that affects the heart causing heart attacks just in a different location of the body. 

There are two kinds of strokes, ischemic and hemorrhagic. Ischemic strokes, which are treatable, account for 80 percent of all strokes. 

Ischemic strokes are when a blood vessel in the brain becomes blocked, depriving the brain of oxygen, while a hemorrhagic stroke is when the blood flow to part of the brain is cut off or significantly reduced. They are usually caused by a rupture in a blood vessel in the brain or a hemorrhage. 

According to Clifton, to treat an ischemic stroke a patient will receive a CT scan to determine what kind of stroke or if it’s a stroke at all. If it’s determined to be a ischemic stroke they can then be given clot buster drugs. 

Clifton said there are specific signs to look for.

— Face: Look for drooping on one side of the face. 

— Arms: Look for arm weakness. 

— Speech: Look for difficulty or slurred speech. 

— Time: If any of these signs are noticed call 911 immediately.

Sometimes in Montana it is faster to meet the ambulance halfway instead of waiting for them, Clifton said. 

According to Clifton, time is of the essence when dealing with a stroke because during every minute of the stroke a victim loses two million brain cells.

When it comes to strokes there are risk factors that can be controlled, and others that can’t.

According to Clifton, age, gender, race and family history are all risk factors a person can’t control. Several of the risk factors that can be controlled are high blood pressure, high cholesterol, being overweight, smoking, alcohol use and diabetes. 

One out of 10 who have a stroke recover, three out of 10 are left with minor challenges, four out of 10 need some help following a stroke, and one out of 10 can no longer live on their own after a stroke. 

After a stroke, vision, movement, emotions, memory and speaking are affected, Clifton said.

“Stroke recovery is like an operator connecting calls,” said Clifton.

Several therapy options are available for stroke victims.

Some of those are mirror therapy, in which a mirror is used to convey visual stimuli to the brain by observing a person’s unaffected body part as it carries out movements. Another form of therapy is doing crossword and Sudoku puzzles, and word searches. 

The event was part of a collaboration between HRH and St. Vincent Healthcare to provide free wellness seminars. 

“Healthy Living seminars allows SCL Health Montana’s, St. Vincent and Holy Rosary, the opportunity to share our wealth of resources with the community in a setting that is close to home,” Jessica Kuipers, marketing and communications specialist, wrote in an email. “We hope that the wellness seminars and topics offered throughout the year give the community opportunities to focus on all aspects of their health.”

The next seminar — Healthy Mind — is July 20. 

(Contact Ashley Roness at or 406-234-0450.)