There is something wrong and you know it. You may have problems with your speech or you may have problems with your balance or walking. You may be leaning to one side or you may have a loss of feeling on one side. What do you do? Much depends on whether you are by yourself or with someone.
If you think you’re having stroke and you’re alone, there is an acronym you should remember which will tell you what to do. Think “FAST:”
Face – If you have a mirror, use it to look at your face. Smile. Is it nice and symmetrical, or does on side turn down or droop in any way?
Arms – Raise both arms equally. Does one arm not go as high as the other? Does one arm start to droop after you lifted it?
Speech – Talk to the mirror. Can you detect any changes in your normal speech pattern? Is it slurred or at a low or high volume?
Time – If you detect any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately.
Time is of the essence. Stroke patients who arrive at hospital within one hour of the onset of symptoms are twice as likely to receive the clot-busting drug I described in “Why I Write About Strokes.” This is the so-called “Golden Hour” for stroke patients. In order to receive the drug therapy, patients must be seen within three hours of symptoms.
If you are fortunate enough to be with someone when symptoms begin, follow the “FAST” acronym exactly. A friend may be able to observe better than you (if you were alone). In any case, if any of the symptoms described in “FAST” are observed, have your friend call 9-1-1 immediately. I can’t stress enough that time is of the essence!!
Now that I’ve discussed the immediacy of receiving treatment, the following are some general symptoms that many patients experience. Since strokes can impact virtually any part of the body, this is not a comprehensive list. However, these are some of the more commonly seen:
Trouble speaking or understanding – The patient may slur their speech or may not be able to speak at all. Additionally, they may be unable to understand when someone is talking to them.
Paralysis on one side or parts of the body – There may be a sudden onset of numbness on the face, arm or leg, and can be on one side. If you lift your arms over your head and notice that one begins to fall, you may be having a stroke impacting that side. If your smile begins to droop, that may be a symptom of a stroke
Vision – Strokes can impact the vision center of the brain. A stroke victim may experience blurred or blackened vision, in one or both eyes, or they may experience double vision either horizontally, vertically, or diagonally.
Headache – Strokes can cause severe and sudden headaches. Dizziness, vomiting, and loss of consciousness may be present.
Trouble Walking – A stroke vicitim may experience weakness in the legs, problems with balance, or even an inability to hold their weight while standing.
Since strokes can occur in any part of the brain, they can impact any part of the body. Symptoms can be highly variable and can even appear and disappear at times and last for weeks or months. These are knows as Transient Ischemic Attacks and will be the topic of my next post.
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