Stroke: Be prepared to act F.A.S.T.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month, and taking a few seconds to familiarize yourself with the symptoms of a stroke can save yourself or a loved one from permanent disability or even death.

The keys to surviving a stroke are early detection and immediate emergency treatment. Time loss equals brain loss. Symptoms are sometimes dramatic but not always. In fact, the person having a stroke may not know and/or be in denial.

A stroke generally occurs when normal blood flow to the brain has been blocked because of diseased blood vessels and/or a blood clot. This is known as an ischemic stroke, accounting for 80 to 90 percent of cases.

Other causes include: intracerebral hemorrhage, a sudden rupture of an artery inside the brain, or by a subarachnoid hemorrhage, the rupture of an artery that leads to blood filling spaces surrounding the brain.

When a person with an ischemic stroke gets to the hospital quickly enough (within the first three hours), clot-dissolving medications can be administered to get the blood flowing again. However, after three hours, they may not be eligible to receive the medication. It is important to seek help as soon as possible.

Signs of stroke

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or difficulty understanding speech.
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or lack of coordination.
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

Call 9-1-1 immediately if you or someone else has any of these symptoms.

One of the most powerful warning signs is a TIA — transient ischemic attack — or mini-stroke. Typically, a TIA will involve one or more stroke symptoms that pass within a short period.

Think F.A.S.T.

If you suspect a stroke, remember: F.A.S.T.

  • Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of their face droop?
  • Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred?
  • Time: If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.

Note the time when any symptoms first appear. Emergency medical personnel need to know if the person is still within the initial three hours of the stroke. If you think you are suffering a stroke, do not drive yourself to the hospital or let someone else drive you. Call an ambulance so that medical personnel can begin life-saving treatment on the way to the emergency room.

If you live alone and know you have a high risk, keep in mind that any sudden deficits caused by a stroke could make it difficult or impossible for you to reach the phone to call 911 – keep a phone close to you. Even if your speech becomes incoherent, the dispatcher might be able to trace your call and send emergency personnel.

A stroke is a brain attack. It’s important to know and recognize the symptoms, no matter how brief or mild they may be – act F.A.S.T.

Visit our Health Library and learn how you can minimize your risk factors for stroke.

About Author: Michelle Lovsey

Michelle Lovsey, RN, BSN, SCRN, is the stroke coordinator and neurology navigator for OSF HealthCare Saint Anthony’s Health Center. She has been in this role for the past three years. Prior to joining OSF HealthCare, she worked as an RN on a neurology unit in Springfield, Illinois. She lives in Wilsonville, Illinois, with her husband and two sons.

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Categories: Brain & Spine