Strokes are a serious medical emergency and must be treated immediately. Thanks to extensive stroke awareness programs over the past decade, strokes have dropped from the 3rd to the 5th leading cause of death in the US.
“We’ve done a pretty good job in identifying and treatingpeople with stroke. We’ve been able to reduce the mortality,” says vascular neurologist Zeshaun Khawaja, MD. “But it’s still the number one cause of long-term disability.”
That is why physicians and hospitals continue implementing an aggressive approach to increasing awareness of the symptoms of a stroke. They want people to know what to do if someone exhibits those signs.
“For every minute that passes, a stroke patient can lose about 2 million neurons,” Dr. Khawaja says. “So the sooner we can treat stroke, the more brain we can save, which can reduce the chances of being left with a permanent disability.”
Here are expert tips to prepare you to act fast if someone has a stroke.
Tip 1: Know the signs and symptoms of a stroke
The following are the primary symptoms of a stroke:
- Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg, usually on the same side of the body
- Sudden confusion, during which the person may have trouble speaking or understanding what’s being said to him or her
- Slurring of speech; the person may sound like he has something in his mouth while trying to talk
- Problems with vision in one or both eyes (double vision, blurry vision or the feeling of a shade coming down over the eye)
- Dizziness, loss of coordination, trouble with balance and walking
- A sudden, severe headache
Tip 2: If the symptoms fit, call 911 immediately
It’s very important to get medical help quickly in the case of a stroke. When it comes to assessing the symptoms, Dr. Khawaja says, “The key word is ‘sudden.’ It’s important to call 911 immediately to letmedical personnel evaluate treat the patient.”
While there are intra-arterial treatments that can still help patients six to eight hours after a stroke, it’s much more optimal to get to patients sooner.
“We only have 3 to 4 ½ hours to deliver acute life saving treatment such as tPA, a clot busting medication, that has been proven to improve outcomes in stroke. After that time window, we can no longer administer the medication because the risk of bleeding is elevated,” he says.
Given through an IV, the TPA drug breaks up the clots with the goal of restoring blood flow to the part of the brain that has been affected. According to Dr. Khawaja, studies show that patients who receive this medication are more functionally independent than those who do not receive it.
Tip 3: Remember this acronym — BE FAST!
Balance – Sudden loss of coordination, balance, trouble with walking or dizziness
Eyes – Sudden change or loss in vision (double vision, blurry vision or the feeling of a shade coming down over the eye)
Face – Sudden weakness or asymmetry of the face
Arms – Sudden weakness or numbness of the arm and/or leg
Speech – Sudden difficulty producing speech or language (trouble finding words or understanding spoken and/or written commands)
Time – Time to call 911 and note the time symptoms started.
Tip 4: Document important details
In addition to making the stroke sufferer comfortable and safe by having him sit or lie down while you wait for the ambulance, you should document the time the person’s symptoms started or the last time the patient seemed completely normal.
Also, jot down his medical history: Does the person take any blood thinners? Does the person have any other medical conditions? Has the person had any recent surgery?
Once the ambulance arrives, medical personnel can begin assessing the person’s situation, taking into account the medical history you provide. “Even if a patient is not a candidate for TPA, if one of their arteries is occluded, we can do advanced endovascular procedures to remove the clot or deliver TPA right at the level of the occlusion.”
“Although it’s a more targeted approach, it is still important to evaluate and treat stroke patients as soon as possible to try and save as much brain as we can,” Dr. Khawaja concludes.
Knowing this information could make all the difference in treating a stroke successfully.