Straight, No Chaser: Stroke Recognition


This content of this post is so simple yet important that it really warrants taking up space in a few of your brain’s cells. Most of us know someone who has suffered from a stroke. With recent improvements in treatment, it’s really unfortunate when debilitating consequences occur simply because signs and symptoms weren’t recognized and/or brought in for treatment soon enough.
Let’s talk about strokes, aka Cerebral Vascular Accidents (CVA) and Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA), and specifically about recognition and treatment. If you don’t remember anything else here, commit the mnemonic FAST to memory. (Details follow.)
A stroke (CVA) is an insult to some part of your brain, usually due to an inability of the blood supply to deliver needed oxygen and nutrients to that part of the brain. The brain actually approximates a “body map,” so depending on what part of your brain is affected, different parts of your body will be predictably affected. Technically, a stroke isn’t a stroke until the symptoms have been there for more than 24 hours; until then and/or if the symptoms reverse within that timeframe, the same scenario is called a TIA or a “mini-stroke.”

Think FAST, Act Faster

Here’s how the layperson can recognize a possible stroke:

  • Face: Ask the affected person to show you his/her teeth (or gums). In a stroke the face often droops or is otherwise noticeably different.
  • Arms: Ask the person to lift and extend the arms so the elbows are at eye level. In a stroke one side will often be weak and drift downward.
  • Speech: Ask the person to say any sentence to you. In a stroke the speech will slur or otherwise be abnormal.
  • Time: If any of the above occur, it’s recommended that you call 911 immediately, but if it’s my family, I’m getting in a car and going to the nearest MAJOR medical center—not the nearest hospital, which is where the ambulance will take you. There are important differences in hospitals when it comes to stroke treatment (which you won’t know offhand), because some are designated stroke centers and others are not. Friends, this is not the situation where you should wait hours or overnight to see if things get better. Time is (brain) tissue.

It is VERY important that you act on any of the above symptoms (F-A-S) within three (3) hours of symptom onset. Important treatment options are available within the first several hours of symptom onset that are otherwise unavailable.
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