You may have heard it said — minutes count when a stroke happens — and it’s true. Time is brain when it comes to strokes. This is because a stroke starves brain tissue of oxygen. This tissue begins to die in as little as four minutes after the beginning of a stroke and when brain tissue dies, it is gone forever.
I work in the Lake Region Healthcare emergency department (ED). Our team is always ready, 24/7/365 to help when stroke strikes. We are a Level 3 trauma center and are designated as an acute stroke ready hospital. We have an excellent stroke program with a team of highly experienced nurses, physicians and advance practice providers. They work closely with our lab and radiology department to get time sensitive tests completed to determine the best treatment path. Stroke neurologists are available to us by tele-neurology 24/7 when needed, allowing most of our stroke patients to stay close to home rather than travel to another stroke center. Last year we saw over 150 people come to our ED with stroke symptoms. I’ve seen enough to say without a doubt, the amount of time between the start of a stroke and getting emergency care can make all the difference in minimizing brain damage, long-term disability or even death due to stroke.
My goal in writing this article is to capitalize on the publicity around Stroke Awareness Month to help you feel more confident in recognizing the signs and symptoms of a stroke, so that if it happens to you or someone you love, you can act as fast as possible and improve our odds of a positive outcome.
Since we’re approaching the end of the school year, I thought a test might be appropriate. So, let’s see how you do, and what you can learn from this pop quiz.
Q: What is the acronym used to help spot the signs and symptoms of a stroke?
None of these
A: Acting FAST can help people get the stroke treatment they need. If you think someone may be having a stroke, do the following:
F – Face – ask the person to smile does one side of the face droop?
A – Arms – ask the person to raise both arms … does one drift downward?
S – Speech – ask the person to repeat a simple phrase … is the speech slurred or strange?
T – Time – if you see any of these signs, call 911 immediately and wait for emergency help to arrive.
Q: Which of these symptoms should you look for in someone who may be having a stroke?
Numbness in the face, arm, or leg
Confusion, including trouble speaking or difficulty understanding speech
Trouble seeing from one or both eyes
Trouble walking or problems with dizziness
Severe and sudden onset of headache
All of the above
A: All of these are key symptoms of stroke in men and women. It is important to recognize the signs and symptoms in order to get FAST treatment. Call 911 right away if you or someone else has any of these symptoms.
Q: To receive the best possible treatment, stroke needs to be diagnosed within ___ hours of the first symptoms.
A: The stroke treatments that work best for the most common type of stroke are available only if a stroke is recognized and diagnosed with 3 hours of the first symptoms. Stroke patients who do not arrive at the hospital in time may not be eligible for these treatments. Acting FAST can help stroke patients get the treatments they desperately need.
Q: What is the FIRST thing you should do in the event of a stroke?
Drive yourself or the stroke victim to the emergency room
See if the signs or symptoms subside and then call 911
Call 911 immediately and wait for EMS to arrive
Take a nap
A: You may think you can get to the hospital more quickly if you drive yourself, but calling 911 right away can get you the treatment you need immediately. In many cases, lifesaving treatment can begin in the ambulance. EMS providers, such as paramedics, can screen for stroke symptoms, start treatment and notify stroke-certified centers or hospitals to be prepared for your arrival.
How did you do? This quiz is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website and there are many other helpful resources on the site at cdc.gov/stroke if you’d like to learn more.
While stroke is a leading cause of death and disability in our country, it doesn’t have to be. Learning how you can prevent stroke by acting FAST and teaching what you know to others, you could save a life – maybe even your own.
Dr. Mathias Christianson is an emergency department physician at Lake Region Healthcare.