Strokes: Know the signs, act fast
Three simple questions can help the lay person determine if a person has suffered a stroke. Learn them and use them.
Strokes can happen anywhere, anytime. They are the number one cause of serious, long-term disability in the United States, affecting 750,000 Americans annually, and the third leading cause of death after heart disease and cancer, according to statistics compiled and published by the Stroke Awareness Organization of Southern California (SOCAL). Certain individuals may be more prone to stroke than others, but strokes can happen to anyone – to someone who seems healthy and doesn’t appear to have health problems.
What is a stroke?
A stroke is what happens to a person’s body when part of the brain is cut off from its blood supply and stops working, usually because one of the arteries that supplies oxygen-carrying blood to the brain has been damaged. Most strokes are one of two types, reports the National Stroke Association. The most common (85 percent) is an ischemic stroke, caused by blockage of a blood vessel in the brain, usually by a blood clot or by fatty deposits on the vessel wall. In 15 percent of cases, a stroke is caused by a burst vessel or hemorrhage. A ruptured blood vessel prevents normal flow and allows blood to leak into brain tissue, destroying it.
Part of the brain, deprived of oxygen, could be destroyed within minutes, but other tissue parts may be damaged and destroyed over longer period of time, up to several hours, depending on the extent of blockage or hemorrhage. That is why it is important to determine if a person’s symptoms align with those of a stroke and, if they do, to seek medical help immediately. Recognizing the symptoms and acting fast can save a life and limit disabilities.
Warning signs of stroke
Various medical resources and stroke awareness groups list the following early symptoms of a stroke:
- Sudden numbness or weakness in face, arm, hand, or leg, especially on one side of the body;
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding;
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes;
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; and
- Sudden, severe headache with no known cause.
What to do first
How do you recognize a stroke? Sometimes symptoms of a stroke are difficult to identify, but anyone can identify key early symptoms by asking three simple questions:
- Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
- Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
- Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence such as “It is sunny out today.” Are the words slurred? Can the patient repeat the sentence correctly?
If the person has trouble with any of these tasks, call 9-1-1 immediately and describe the symptoms to the dispatcher.
Researchers found that people who are not medically trained can use these three questions to correctly identify facial weakness, arm weakness, and speech problems. The American Stoke Association is promoting the dissemination of this knowledge to as many people as possible. If more people know what to do if someone may have had or is having a stroke, more lives can be saved.
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