A stroke occurs when one of two things critically impairs blood flow in the brain: either a blood clot forms or a hemorrhage causes bleeding. When someone is having a stroke, every minute that passes without treatment means more brain cells are being damaged. Knowing how to recognize the major symptoms of a stroke is essential so that you can take action immediately and limit the amount of brain damage the victim suffers.
Symptoms of a stroke will appear suddenly. The American Heart Association and American Stroke Association have created a memorable acronym if you suspect someone is having a stroke: FAST.
If you believe that you may be suffering from a stroke yourself, alert someone who is with you immediately. If you are alone, you can go through these steps for yourself.
F: Face Drooping
When a person is suffering from a stroke, it is very common for one side of their face to droop or become numb suddenly. If you believe this is happening, ask the person to smile and see whether the smile is even. An uneven or lopsided smile indicates that the person has lost control of the facial muscles or nerves on one side of their face, which is likely due to a stroke.
A: Arm Weakness
Since a stroke often causes weakness on one side of the body, ask the person to hold both arms straight out in front of them. If one arm droops down lower, this is an indicator that they are suffering from a stroke.
S: Speech Difficulty
A stroke can cause speech problems, including slurred speech or difficulty speaking coherently. Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. If they are unable to do so, or if their speech is difficult to understand, this may also be a sign of a stroke.
T: Time to Call 911
If the person shows any of the above symptoms, call 911 immediately. They will need medical attention, even if their symptoms go away. Tell the 911 operator that the person is having a stroke and requires an ambulance right away.
After Calling 911
Waiting for the ambulance to arrive can be a very tense experience, but there are a few things you should and should not do while you wait.
- Remain calm and stay with the stroke victim. You need to monitor their condition and prevent them from falling or being otherwise injured.
- It’s very important to write down what time the stroke symptoms first began as precisely as possible. The doctor will need this information to know whether there is still time to perform the treatment. This must be administered within 4 hours and 30 minutes of the onset of a stroke.
- Make a note of all other relevant details you can find out, including any medications the person takes and their dosages.
- If the person is unconscious, check to see whether they are breathing or have a pulse. If you find no breath or pulse, begin performing CPR as you wait for the paramedics to arrive.
- Do not give the person medicine or food of any kind. Medication could worsen their condition, and since many stroke victims have difficulty swallowing, any food or drink could lead to choking.
- Do not allow the person to go to sleep. Many stroke victims report feeling very tired, but letting them sleep can be extremely dangerous.
- Do not let the person talk you out of calling an ambulance. Remember, when a person is suffering from a stroke, every minute that passes can mean additional brain damage.
When a stroke is treated quickly, a patient has a very good chance of recovery. Knowing the symptoms of a stroke and what to do if someone is suffering from one will save precious time when it counts the most.