Stroke—You Have To Act FAST

Learning the signs and symptoms of a stroke and knowing how to act FAST can be life-saving. This month is marked by National Stroke Awareness month.

Here are the numbers:

  • About 800,000 people have a new or recurrent stroke every year.
  • That comes down to a person having a stroke about every 40 seconds.
  • It’s the 5th leading cause of death in the US.
  • Every 4 minutes someone dies from a stroke.
  • Up to 80% of strokes can be prevented.
  • It is the leading cause of adult disability in the US.

What is a stroke?

A stroke is either caused by a weakened vein leaking blood or a blocked artery. In either case, blood – and therefore oxygen – are not getting to the brain. These are called hemorrhagic and ischemic strokes, respectively. A temporary block of blood flow is called a transient ischemic attack (TIA) but is also referred to as a mini-stroke. That should not dampen the potential severity of what it is, attention should be sought immediately as a full stroke is likely to occur soon.

What is FAST?

FAST is a simple acronym for signs to be on the look-out for if you suspect a person is having a stroke.

Face drooping – Ask the person to smile and observe if the face droops.

Arms weak – See if the person is able to lift both arms overhead. Does an arm drift down or do they have trouble raising one?

Speech difficulty- Have the person repeat a person phrase. Pay attention to see if they slur or sound odd. They may have some confusion and trouble understanding you.

Time to call 9-1-1 (or your local emergency number) – Call 911 immediately if you observe any of these signs.

Other symptoms include:

  • trouble walking
  • a sudden and severe headache that may be joined with vomiting or dizziness
  • trouble seeing in one or both eyes

Why is it that so important?

In the case of many medical emergencies, stroke included, time is of the essence. Once a person starts having a stroke, it only takes a matter of minutes before brain damage can start to occur. Depending on where and the severity of the stroke, the type of damage can vary but often temporary or permanent disability can be expected. Two-thirds of survivors have some type of disability. These can include:

  • A difficulty with talking and swallowing: sometimes people can experience problems with swallowing, eating, and language due to trouble controlling muscles in your throat and nose. This can include difficulty communicating by talking, reading, and writing. Working with a therapist may help.
  • New sensations may occur in parts of the body affected by the stroke. This could be pain, tingling, or numbness. New sensitivities like to temperature changes could develop.
  • After a stroke, you may lose control of parts of your body or be paralyzed on one side like a side of your face or a leg. Physical therapy may help to return to activities like dressing, walking, and eating.
  • Some memory loss is common as well as changes to your cognitive ability like reasoning and judgment.
  • Emotional problems or depression could manifest after experiencing a stroke.
  • A person may experience behavior changes and their ability for self-care. They may become withdrawn and need help with chores, grooming, and dressing.

The success of treating these complications varies on the person and their situation.

Risk factors

Below are some risk factors that increase a person’s chance of having a stroke. While some of these are unavoidable, working on the ones that are changeable can help lower your risk level and possibly increase your quality of life.

  • Age – being over the age of 55 increases your risk of a stroke
  • Sex – men are more likely than women to have a stroke but women are older when they have one and are more likely to die of a stroke.
  • Race – African-Americans have a higher risk of stroke.
  • Hormones – estrogen-based therapies,  use of birth control, and the higher levels of estrogen during pregnancy and after childbirth increase the risk of stroke.
  • Physical inactivity
  • Heavy drinking
  • Obesity
  • Illicit drugs (cocaine, methamphetamines, etc)
  • Smoking and secondhand smoke
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular disease (abnormal heartbeat, heart failure, defects, and infection)
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • A family history of stroke, TIA, or heart attack

 

Implementing simple lifestyle changes can help lower your risk but if you are concerned about your risk, speak to a healthcare professional. If you or someone know has been affected by stroke, therapy may be able to help increase one’s quality of life. Remember, if you suspect someone is having a stroke, act FAST.