Stroke: Know the Signs
A stroke, sometimes called a brain attack, occurs when a clot blocks the blood supply to the brain or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. You can greatly reduce your risk for stroke through lifestyle changes and, in some cases, medication.
Stroke can cause death or significant disability such as paralysis, speech difficulties and emotional problems. Some new treatments can reduce stroke damage if patients get medical care soon after symptoms begin. When a stroke happens, it is important to recognize the symptoms, call 9-1-1 right away and get to a hospital quickly.
Know What To Look For
Stroke can affect your senses, speech, behavior, thoughts, memory and emotions. One side of your body may become paralyzed or weak. The five most common signs and symptoms of stroke are:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg (especially on one side).
- Sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding others.
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
- Sudden dizziness, trouble walking or loss of balance or coordination.
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
Warning signs of a stroke usually appear suddenly and there is often more than one. If your symptoms go away after a few minutes, you may have had a "mini-stroke," also called a transient ischemic attack (TIA). Mini-strokes do not cause permanent damage, but can be a warning sign of a full stroke – you should still get help immediately.
If you or someone else experiences one or more signs or symptoms of stroke, call 9-1-1 right away. Every second counts! Every minute matters!
What To Do
A stroke is a medical emergency. Any ONE of these symptoms is a reason to take action. At the first sign of stroke, call 9-1-1 right away! Calling 9-1-1 is almost always the fastest way to get lifesaving treatment. The faster you call for help, the better your chance for a full recovery. Time lost before receiving treatment increases the risk of death or disability.
By calling 9-1-1, potential stroke victims can be screened, time of onset of stroke symptoms learned and the hospital emergency department notified to be ready to perform the necessary tests and initiate treatment quickly.
Use F-A-S-T to remember the stroke warning signs:
Ask the person to smile. Show teeth. Does one side of the face droop?
Ask the person to close his or her eyes. Extend arms. Palms up. Does one arm drift downward?
Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is his or her speech slurred or strange?
TIME IS CRITICAL:
If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately.
Stroke is highly treatable within the first 3 to 4 ½ hours. Note the time you experienced your first symptom. This information is important to your health-care provider and can affect treatment decisions.
If you have a stroke, you may receive emergency care, treatment to prevent another stroke, rehabilitation to treat the side effects of stroke or all three.
- Emergency treatment. If you get to the hospital within three hours of the first symptoms of an ischemic stroke, a doctor may give you medications, called thrombolytics, to break up blood clots. Unfortunately, if you have had a hemorrhagic stroke, few medications can treat it, but surgery may stop the bleeding.
- Preventing another stroke. If you have had a stroke, you are at high risk for another one. That's why it's important to treat the underlying causes including heart disease, high blood pressure, atrial fibrillation, high cholesterol or diabetes. Your doctor may give you medications or tell you to change your diet, exercise or adopt other healthy lifestyle habits. Surgery also may be helpful.
- Rehabilitation. Rehabilitation often involves physical therapy to help you relearn skills you may have lost because of the stroke. You also may need help relearning how to eat, bathe or dress yourself. Therapy and medications may help with depression or other mental health conditions.
Life After Stroke
If you have had a stroke, you can make great progress in regaining your independence; however, you may still suffer from any of the following:
- Paralysis on one side of your body
- Weakness on one side of your body
- Problems with thinking, awareness, attention, learning, judgment and memory
- Problems understanding or forming speech
- Difficulty controlling or expressing emotions
- Numbness or strange sensations
- Pain in the hands and feet that worsens with movement and temperature changes
Before being discharged from the hospital, social workers can help you find quality care services and family caregiver support to continue your long-term recovery.