A stroke, commonly referred to as a “brain attack”, occurs when there’s an interruption of blood flow to the brain, either due to a blocked blood vessel (ischemic stroke) or a burst blood vessel (hemorrhagic stroke). Recognizing the signs and symptoms of a stroke in its early stages can greatly improve the chances of survival and minimize long-term damage.
Early Recognition: The FAST Approach
The FAST mnemonic is a simple, yet effective method to quickly recognize the most common symptoms of stroke:
- F – Face: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is their smile uneven or lopsided?
- A – Arms: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
- S – Speech: Is speech slurred? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Can they do it correctly?
- T – Time: If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, it’s time to call 9-1-1 and get them to the hospital immediately.
Other Signs to Look Out For
While FAST captures some of the most recognizable signs, strokes can manifest in various ways:
- Sudden numbness or weakness in the leg.
- Sudden confusion or trouble understanding.
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
Minor Strokes and Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIAs)
A TIA, commonly known as a “mini-stroke”, produces stroke-like symptoms but typically doesn’t cause lasting damage. Although TIAs are often considered ‘warning strokes’, they should be taken seriously as they can be a sign that a more severe stroke is imminent.
What to Do if You Suspect a Stroke
- Act Immediately – Time is of the essence. If you or someone around you is exhibiting signs of a stroke, call emergency services right away. Don’t wait to see if the symptoms pass.
- Note the Time – Record the time when symptoms first appeared. This can be crucial information for medical professionals, especially when deciding upon treatments.
- Stay Calm – Keep the person calm and ensure they are in a safe place. If they are conscious, have them lie down and monitor their symptoms.
- Do Not Give Medication – Avoid giving the person any medicine unless instructed by a medical professional. Some medicines can make the situation worse.
- Stay with the Person – Do not leave the person alone as their condition may deteriorate.
The Importance of Immediate Treatment
When it comes to a stroke, every minute counts. The longer the brain is deprived of oxygen and nutrients, the greater the potential for lasting brain damage, disability, or death. Immediate medical intervention can make a difference in recovery. Treatments are most effective when initiated within the first few hours after the onset of symptoms.
Awareness is the first step in preventing the devastating effects of a stroke. Equipping ourselves and our communities with knowledge about the signs and immediate actions to take can save lives and reduce the long-term impact of this medical emergency. Remember the FAST mnemonic and always err on the side of caution. When in doubt, seek medical attention.