In the modern world, we are still plagued by heartbreaking cases of a stroke where the individuals did not realize the symptoms sooner. Thus, the damage is irreparable and life-altering as fully functioning adults lose their ability to communicate, move around freely or live independently.
A stroke, in the most basic terms, is decreased blood flow to your brain. The tissues suffer and you show the symptoms described below. If help is received fast enough, the tissues can receive medications or treatments to restore blood flow and stop the damage. However, as time progresses the brain takes more and more tissue becomes damaged and begins to die.
This can’t be fixed or reversed, so time is literally brain tissue. The faster you get help, the better the chance of recovery and less damage done to you.
As a paramedic, I’ve been taught how to spot the early warning signed of a stroke and try to educate as many people as I can. There are so many cases in which I wish they would have called sooner, had not tried to “sleep it off” or made the call- I promise you’re not bothering anyone.
To better spread the message, the American Heart Organization has developed a technique that anyone can learn to spot the warning signs of a stroke and seek help. This information is meant to help you recognize stroke symptoms and does not replace a professional exam.
F is for Face
This is the most recognized symptom that people see and get them to seek help from my experience. Their family member notices that their face droops or the patient says that one side feels numb.
The best way to check for facial numbness is to ask them to smile with teeth. The droop will become pronounced and easier to spot. You can also touch both sides of the face and ask if one side feels different to the person.
Take a look at this picture for example:
Image from virginiamason.org
Test yourself. Cover up one half of the picture. The left of the face doesn’t look that off. She looks like a normal person. The right shows her smiling with her smile lines and her eye partially closed. Spotting a stroke or droop from either side alone would be hard. But asking this woman to smile, you can see the difference. Her left side doesn’t have an upturned mouth like the right.
I was working in an ER at the time, as a medic of 6 years, when a woman came in looking strange.
Her husband explained that she was having a weird feeling in her cheeks. She called her dentist who told her to take a Tylenol and sleep it off.
In the morning, she couldn’t speak without it sound unrecognizable.
She was rushed through, and it was found that she had a stroke.
It took her extensive rehabilitation to be able to talk like a toddler. She was only in her 50s too…
Had she waited much longer, she could have lost more brain tissue, and while hers was a slow onset, not everyone has that much time. ALWAYS seek help.
NEVER sleep it off, and always get help if you are suspicious of a life-threatening condition.
A is for Arms
This next one is one that the general public doesn’t always look for or know to test for: Having a sudden weakness on one side of the body is a tell-tale sign for stroke though.
If your friend or family member complains they’ve felt weak, has trouble gripping an object or says it just feels strange (like it’s asleep or numb), then get help.
To test this at home, you can have the person close their eyes, hold out their arms in front of them, and hold it for 10 seconds. If it’s weak, the arm will slowly begin to fall or not be as strong as the other. Usually, the person is ok for the first few seconds and you’ll see the drift as you get closer to 10. You’ll notice any difference and call for help, even if it’s subtle.
Image from stroke.org
PRO TIP: Count out loud and use your “Mississippi” or “Alligators.” In an emergency, you may feel rushed and not allow the test time to see it before they are able to rest and miss it. So 1-Mississippi, 2-Mississippi, etc out loud are best.
You can also ask the person to squeeze your hands. If you notice that one squeeze isn’t as firm, that is another sign of weakness on the body. The person may also have a weakness in their legs and have difficulty walking or standing. ALWAYS seek help when in doubt.
S is for Speach
I got called to do a wellness check on a little old lady. Her son actually called, from a few hours away. He said he was talking to her and she didn’t sound right. She was hard to understand like she had been drinking.
We get there and realize very quickly that something was wrong.
She was confused, her speech was slurred- meaning it was very hard to understand- and she said she felt fine.
Lo and behold, her son saved her life. She had suffered a stroke, and because of the lack of blood flow to the brain, she had become confused and didn’t realize the symptoms. Knowing his mom and talking with her, he realized what was happening and help arrived.
You could notice the speech of the person sounding garbled or like they’ve had one too many. It could be hard to understand or not make any sense. It is also quite possible that they lose their words and can’t think of what they want to say or even use the wrong words that make no sense.
To check this at home, ask them to say a sentence after you. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks is my go-to. If it sounds different or they can’t say it calls for help.
T is for Time.
CALL 911! If any of these seem off, call for help or get on the road to the hospital.
Time is tissue and the faster they get help, the better the recovery outcome for the person.
Your loved one may have only one or all of these symptoms, each person is different. If you are ever in doubt seek help so that you can make sure your loved one, friend or even yourself is in the clear.
The damage done from a stroke can be stopped, but not reversed. Once the tissue dies, it’s gone and you could lose functions in parts of your body. It’s heartbreaking to see people try to wait it out when they could have been saved.
WHEN IN DOUBT: CALL FOR HELP!
I cannot stress this enough. You are never bothering anyone, we don’t mind if you call at lunch or in the middle of the night. We are here to serve.
Every First Responder would rather get out of the bunk for nothing than to be called when its too late and the damage is done.
Hopefully, these tips will help you to recognize an emergency and get help. You can find more information from the American Heart Organization. So think FAST, and to all my fellow first responders, stay safe out there and keep living the dream.