For the teacher whose speech becomes slurred or the outdoorsman who can no longer walk steadily through the woods, a stroke is a devastating and life-changing event, even if the resulting physical damage is minimal.
According to the American Stroke Association, someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds, and someone dies from one every four minutes. All it takes is a blood clot no bigger than a pencil eraser to block an artery in the brain, interrupting blood flow and causing brain cells to die. The longer the blood flow is interrupted, the more brain cells die and the more extensive the resulting disability.
Therein lies the problem – immediate medical attention is vital for someone experiencing a stroke, but since strokes do not cause pain, symptoms are often dismissed as signs of fatigue or side effects of a medication. This results in people not seeking emergency medical care, increasing the risk of physical damage. In fact, Freeman Health System’s System Quality Improvement Department recently found that less than 20 percent of its stroke patients sought treatment within three and a half hours of the onset of symptoms.
Now for the good news. With prompt treatment, the effects of a stroke can be minimized. The American Stroke Association encourages the use of the acronym FAST as a learning tool to recognize the warning signs of stroke.
- Face – Is one side of the face drooping or numb? If the person is asked to smile, is the smile uneven?
- Arm – Is one arm weak or numb? If the person is asked to raise both arms, does one arm drift downward?
- Speech – Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or are they hard to understand? If the person is asked to repeat a simple phrase, can he or she repeat it correctly?
- Time – Time is critical when someone is having a stroke. If you observe any of these symptoms, even if they go away, call 911 and get the person to the hospital immediately. Note the time when symptoms first appeared.
While strokes occur in both males and females of all age groups, the risk doubles every 10 years after the age of 55. Risks are higher for individuals with high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, as well as those with a family history of stroke.
If you experience any of the symptoms noted above or observe them in a loved one, remember to seek medical attention immediately. The sooner treatment is given, the better the chance of a full recovery.
Take our free online stroke assessment today.
About the author
Sharlyn Splean, RN, is a stroke care coordinator at Freeman Health System. She has been a registered nurse since 1993 and has worked for Freeman since 2008. With a Level II Stroke designation by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, Freeman Health System works in cooperation with the area’s ambulance services to improve outcomes for patients with stroke. Freeman is the only Level II Stroke Center within 80 miles of Joplin. Freeman was recently recognized by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association with a Silver Plus Achievement award for our accomplishments in the Get With The Guidelines™ quality program. To learn more about stroke and stroke education, visit freemanhealth.com/stroke or freemanhealth.com/stroke-assessment.