How to Recognize a Stroke

Because Every Second Counts

The fact is strokes are a common occurrence in everyday life and the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. Although they are common among the elderly, strokes can happen to anyone. Recognizing when a stroke occurs and acting quickly is key to lessening the disability from a stroke.

Now, consider that 80 percent of the time a stroke can be prevented by controlling common risk factors. Taking medications prescribed for things like high blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol, can help reduce your chance of having a stroke. Smoking, on the other hand, is a lifestyle choice that can increase your risk of a stroke.

Although we can control some of the risk factors to help reduce the chance of a stroke, it is difficult to know when one will occur and who will be affected. I had a patient who was in his 40s that had a sudden onset of numbness and tingling in his right hand as well as difficulty speaking. His only risk factor was high blood pressure, and even that was not significant. He had no family history of stroke and there were no other risk factors present … yet he suffered from a stroke.

The patient called 911 immediately and even though he could not speak, emergency services were dispatched to his home. He was at the hospital 45 minutes after the onset of symptoms and had a 99 percent recovery. His life is back to the way it was before, and that is because he acted quickly.

Many times symptoms occur on one side of the body. Remember the signs of a stroke with the acronym FAST:

  • Face: check for a new facial droop.
  • Arms: raise both arms and check for a new drift or weakness.
  • Speech: repeat a simple sentence and listen for new slurring or inability to say the words.
  • Time: if any of the above are present, call 911immediately for medical attention.

Unfortunately, the typical stroke victim will start to experience some numbness or tingling on one side of the body and dismiss the symptoms. Often times the person having a stroke will lay down to get some rest, and wake up to worsening symptoms. In these instances, they may have missed the window to receive the clot-busting drug called TPA. Intravenous TPA is available for patients that qualify, but it has to be administered within four and a half hours of a stroke. Not everyone is eligible for the drug, but it is the only intravenous treatment method that can help reverse the affects of a stroke.

It is crucial that you get to the hospital as soon as possible after a stroke. Early medical treatment is key to minimizing the disabilities caused by a stroke. If you experience any signs or symptoms of a stroke call 911 or go to the
hospital immediately. It is important to understand that you should not try to schedule an appointment with the doctor, but instead go directly to the emergency room.

When a stroke victim arrives at the emergency room they can expect to receive prompt intervention with a CAT scan of the head, lab work and an evaluation from a physician. If a stroke has occurred, the patient can expect to remain in the hospital for three to five days, or longer, if the stroke is severe.

Symptoms of a stroke include:

  • Numbness or weakness of the face, arms or leg (usually on one side of the body)
  • Confusion or trouble understanding
  • Trouble seeing
  • Dizziness, trouble walking or loss of balance and coordination
  • Severe headache

These symptoms will appear suddenly, so it is important to act fast if you or someone you know has experienced any of them. When it comes to recovering from a stroke, every second counts. 

Janice Dunlap is an advanced practice registered nurse with White-Wilson NeuroScience Center.