The symptoms of a stroke can be hard to identify, even for a trained professional. Strokes are the brain equivalent of a heart attack. In a heart attack, there is a lack of oxygen supply to the heart tissue, causing the muscles of the heart to die. The process is the same in a stroke, where a lack of oxygen to a part of the brain leads to immediate death of brain cells. Strokes are a medical emergency and need to be treated immediately. The faster a person is treated, the better chance there is of a successful recovery. Because of this, it is important to recognize the stoke and take action as quickly as possible.
Each year over 750,000 people in America suffer a stoke. Over 160,000 of these people will die and tens of thousands of others will be left with permanent disability. These numbers can be improved upon however with proper care and treatment.
There is a mnemonic used to rapidly asses a potential stroke victim. Remember the phrase “Act F.A.S.T.”
F is for Face. Look at the person’s face. Ask them to smile. Is the smile not symmetrical? Does one side of the face droop?
A is for Arms. Ask the person to raise their arms. In a normal person the arms should raise equally, assuming no other health problems. Some strokes will cause on arm to sag.
S is for Speech. Ask the person to speak a simple sentence. Is the speech slurred? Does it sound abnormal, as if the person could be drunk (when they obviously aren’t)?
T is for Time. If you notice any of the above signs or symptoms, you need to call 911 (999 in England) IMMEDIATELY. If you aren’t sure, call anyway. The 911 operator can help you. There is no harm in sending a trained paramedic to you to determine if the problem is in fact a stroke. Paramedics are trained to deal with strokes and the sooner they get to the patient, the more help they can be. Don’t hesitate and error on the side of caution.
Aside from the Act F.A.S.T mnemonic, there are other symptoms of a stoke that you should be aware of. Strokes often cause a rapid onset numbness or weakness in the face, arms or legs. This happens when the part of the brain that controls that body part begins to die from lack of oxygen. Often weakness or numbness is only on one side and can be very much isolated to one body part.
Sudden confusion or headache for no known reason can be another sign to look for. This is sometimes accompanied by dizziness, lack of coordination and loss of balance. These symptoms are more general and can be caused by things other than stroke, although with a stroke they will typically come of very rapidly – one second you’re fine, the next second you are in trouble.
Eyesight is often effected in a stroke. A sudden loss of vision, in one or both eyes, should be a warning sign that the person is experiencing a stroke.
Remember, each second counts in treating a stroke. A person who is suffering from a stroke is has millions of brain cells dying each second. Strokes are treatable and recovery is possible in many cases. Knowing what to look for during a stroke is the first step in a good outcome. If you have questions about symptoms of a stroke, talk to your doctor. If you thing someone is having a stroke – including yourself – call for help immediately.