Excluding mechanical injury like a car crash, a stroke is arguably the most immediately life threatening thing that can happen to the brain. In a stroke, minutes matter. What happens in the first hour can determine not only whether someone survives, but their quality of life after the stroke. But it’s not always easy to recognize. Familiarize yourself with the signs now, so you know what to do if you ever witness a stroke.
WHAT IS IT?
Strokes happen when blood flow in the brain is disrupted. There are two types. Ischemic strokes happen when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel. The neurons can’t get oxygen, and they die. Hemorrhagic stroke happens when a blood vessel bursts and blood flows into the brain. This also kills neurons. Strokes are immediately life threatening, and must be dealt with right away.
WHO IS AT RISK?
- People with high blood pressure
- Obese people
- People with a history of cigarette smoking, alcoholism, or drug use
- Older people
- People with diabetes
- People with certain heart conditions
Just because someone isn’t on this list, don’t assume they can’t have a stroke. If you see the signs, assume the worst, and call the paramedics.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS?
- Paralysis or weakness on one half of the face. Ask them to smile. If only one side of the face moves, they might be having a stroke.
- Paralysis or weakness on one half of the body. Ask them to lift both their arms. If they can’t lift one arm very high, maybe it’s a stroke.
- Slurred speech. Ask them to say, “my dog has fleas,” and check to see if they slur, especially their s’s.
- Confusion. If a normally sharp person suddenly becomes confused and disoriented, they might be having a stroke.
- Sudden problems with sight.
- Sudden problems with balance.
- Severe headache.
|From New York State Department of Health|
Remember, not all people having a stroke will show all of these signs. Sometimes, the paralysis/weakness will be on both halves, not just one half. IF IN DOUBT, CALL 911 (or the emergency number for your country)!!
WHAT TO DO:
- Call the paramedics. I really can’t stress that enough.
- Keep the person calm. Tell them you’ve called for help. People having strokes may have difficulty communicating. They’ll be scared. While waiting for the paramedics, the best thing you can do is keep them calm and let them know that help is coming.
- Keep the person talking. This does two things. First, it tells you that the person is still awake and with it. Also, it gives you a chance to get important information. Ask them what they’re feeling. Do they have any other medical problems? If they can’t talk, just keep talking to them and reassuring them. But if they can talk, remember as much as you can and tell the paramedics. Which takes us to…
- Tell the paramedics everything. They need this information, especially if the person passes out. Which side was paralyzed? What parts couldn’t they move? Even just this much info tells the paramedics where in the brain the stroke has happened.
This may sound scary. It will be scary. But if you stay calm, recognize the signs, and call the emergency number, you can save a life.