Dr. Rx: Recognize stroke’s signs and symptoms
Q: Last year my father had a stroke, and I didn’t know what to do. What are the signs of a stroke that I should be aware of — and how should I respond?
A: Strokes are relatively common yet very dangerous. According to the CDC, they are the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States. Strokes can lead to severe injury and permanent disability in many adults.
It is important to know the signs and symptoms of a stroke to recognize when a person may be having one. A speedy response is key to a good prognosis after a stroke.
Many signs of a stroke can be the same for both men and women. Often the person having a stroke will experience sudden weakness or numbness in their face, arms or legs. This is generally seen only on one side of the body.
The person may feel dizzy, have difficulty walking or maintaining their balance. They may also experience confusion or a severe headache. Depending on the type of stroke they are having, it might be described as “the worst headache of their lives.”
All of these symptoms are very common in stroke patients and can be easily identified.
Symptoms can differ in women
Keep in mind, however, that women who are having a stroke may experience subtler signs, such as sudden attacks of weakness, fatigue or nausea. For more information on symptoms of stroke and heart attack in men and women, visit the American Heart Association website at heart.org.
To recognize the most common signs and symptoms of a stroke, it is important to act F.A.S.T.:
F – Face: Ask the person to smile. Can they? Does half of their face droop down?
A – Arms: Ask the person to lift their arms up. Does only one arm move? Does the other arm hang down?
S – Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Such a phrase could be something like, “The sky is blue in Richmond.” Do they sound slurred or strange compared to their normal speech?
T – Time: Call 9-1-1 immediately if they are experiencing any of these symptoms!
If you suspect a person is having a stroke, it’s important to react in a timely fashion so they may get the treatment they need.
Time is of the essence
The most effective treatments for stroke only work if they are given to patients whose strokes are recognized and diagnosed within three hours of symptom onset.
That means every minute counts in saving a stroke patient’s life — from the time of the first symptom’s appearance to the minute they enter the hospital and receive treatment. A quicker response leads to faster treatment and a reduction in potential damage to the brain. Just think: Time is brain!
Stroke is both preventable and treatable. It’s critical to learn the signs to potentially save a life. A stroke can cause long-term damage, disability and even death. It is a serious medical emergency that requires swift thinking and a fast response. Every minute counts.
Kelsey Tate is a fourth-year Pharm.D. student at VCU School of Pharmacy. She studied biochemistry at Virginia Tech with minors in medicine, society and chemistry. Upon graduation, she plans to pursue a career in pediatric pharmacy.