A stroke, like a heart attack, is one of the most dreaded conditions. While there are other equally serious and life-threatening conditions, a stroke and heart attack are relatively common in the modern world. It is a major concern for people at risk but it can even strike a person who would otherwise seem like the most unlikely person to have a stroke or heart attack. And the most scary part is that there is no knowing exactly when it will strike. In an instant, life can change forever after having a stroke and sometimes even end altogether.
As with any major medical event, quick treatment can often be a matter of life and death. The first few minutes are crucial and even with the best emergency medical services, professional assistance may not be in time. A brain stroke is a result of the blood supply to the brain being compromised in some way. The brain cells being the most oxygen-sensitive organ in the body can die within just a few minutes. Usually only a small part of the brain is affected but depending on its location, the effects may be debilitating and last a lifetime.
Stroke awareness campaigns have focused on the “Act FAST” logo but “FAST” is actually a pneumonic that stands for :
Look at the face of the person suspected of having a stroke. Does it fall (droop) to one side? Ask the person to smile. Does the smile seem skewed to one side? If you have answered yes to either of these questions then you have the first confirmation that it is a stroke. The part of the brain that controls the movement of the face muscles may be damaged.
Ask the person to raise both arms and keep it still. If one arm drifts downwards then you have another confirmatory sign of a stroke. As with the face, the areas of the brain controlling the muscles are affected.
Listen to the speech of the person. Ask them to say a simple phrase like “the sky is blue”. If they cannot articulate as they normally would then it is possibly a stroke. Speech is slurred and sometimes the person says things that does not seem to make sense. They may also not understand what you are saying to them.
There is no time to waste. Call the emergency medical services for assistance immediately. Do not wait to see if the symptoms will ease in a little while. Every minute wasted means that more brain cells are dying.
We are all well aware that aspirin is a very effective drug in preventing blood clot formation. It is a lifesaver when it comes to strokes and heart attacks. You should take aspirin only if it is prescribed by your doctor and exactly as directed. Aspirin is also one of the first drugs used in the treatment of a stroke. But do not take it when you suspect that you are having a stroke. It could be a potentially fatal mistake depending on the type of stroke.
About 85% of strokes are due to a blood clot blocking the blood vessel to the brain (ischemic stroke). Aspirin would help in these cases. But the other 15% of strokes is due to a ruptured blood vessel (hemorrhagic stroke). Aspirin can make the situation worse. Since you cannot be sure which type of stroke it may be, do not take aspirin. Rather wait for the emergency medical personnel to administer it if necessary.
Avoid BP Drugs
You may have a home blood pressure monitor and notice that your blood pressure is high while you are having a suspected stroke. Hypertension (high blood pressure) occurs in the acute phase of a stroke – acute hypertensive response. This is a normal occurrence in most, but not all, stroke patients within a few minutes of actually having the stroke.
Do not take any high blood pressure medication. Even if you do have hypertension and missed your anti-hypertensive drugs for the day, now is not the time to take medication. The higher blood pressure actually helps blood get past a blood clot and reach the brain. Taking your BP drugs while having a stroke can make the situation worse.
Sit or Lie Down
You, or the person suspected of having a stroke, should sit or lie down while waiting for the emergency medical services to arrive. Remember that the patient is not stable and if they try to stand or walk they may fall. The injury can worsen the stroke and even lead to a fatal outcome faster.
By lying down the effect of gravity is largely negated. This means that the heart has to do less work to get more blood to the brain. Remember to lift the chin up if the person is lying flat on their back. This will keep the airway open. Ideally the person should be placed on their side if they are unconscious or is having difficulty swallowing.
No Food or Drink
Try not to give the person suspected of having a stroke anything to eat or drink. Their ability to swallow is most likely impaired and they can choke. Food may obstruct the airway thereby compromising air intake. Furthermore the person may need to undergo certain procedures when they reach the emergency room and an empty stomach is ideal to prevent regurgitation. Diabetics who are having a stroke may think that their blood glucose levels have fallen too low (hypoglycemia) and need something sweet. Avoid this if the symptoms are more likely indicative of a stroke.
Do Not Smoke or Drink
If you, or the person suspected of having a stroke, is a smoker then do not touch a cigarette. A cigarette is not going to make you feel better. In fact it can do more damage. Smoking cessation is one of the most important measures to prevent a stroke. Having a quick cigarette before the emergency medical personnel arrive at the scene is a bad idea that can complicate the outcome.
Having a drink is not going to help you feel better either. Alcohol is not going to “thin” your blood and restore blood flow to the brain. Stay away from alcohol altogether and if you already have had a drink or two, then make sure that you inform the doctor. While intoxication can mimic some of the symptoms of a stroke, it is better to be safe than sorry and seek medical attention immediately if you suspect a stroke.
Sleeping Off Symptoms
Sometimes very mild symptoms of a stroke may seem like nothing more than fatigue, especially in older people. Many stroke patients feel like sleeping and may suggest that a short nap will actually ease the symptoms. This is not true. Sleep cannot ease or resolve a stroke. Immediate medical attention is necessary. You should never wait until the morning to see a doctor. Every minute counts when it comes to a stroke. The consequences can be disastrous by the next morning.