Recognizing the Symptoms of a Stroke

You are having dinner with some friends, when one of the members of the party begins to slur their words, and seems confused. Since no one ordered wine, this is very troubling. Do you know how to determine whether this is a medical emergency or not?

According to a recent article in the New York Times, approximately every forty seconds, someone on in the United States has a stroke. Recognizing the symptoms of a stroke, and getting appropriate medical treatment quickly, can make the difference between complete recovery and life altering after effects or death.

A stroke is an interruption of the blood supply to any part of the brain. Disruption in blood flow is caused when either a blood clot blocks one of the vital blood vessels in the brain (ischemic stroke), or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, spilling blood into surrounding tissues (hemorrhagic stroke). Even a brief interruption in blood supply can cause problems. Brain cells begin to die after just a few minutes without blood or oxygen.

It is important to recognize the symptoms of a stroke, because time lost is brain function lost. Knowing the signs of a stroke, and seeking immediate medical attention can reduce the risk of suffering severe disability or death. If given within three hours of the onset of symptoms, clot-busting medication can severely reduce long-term disability for the most common type of stroke.

The American Stroke Association uses “Give Me 5” as their buzz words for assessing stroke symptoms:

1. Walk: Is balance off? Are they dizzy? Is the person experiencing sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body?

2. Talk: Is speech slurred or their face droopy? Are they experiencing changes in alertness, such as confusion, lethargy, sleepy, or withdrawal from the situation at hand? Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase.

3. Reach: Is one side weak or numb? Does one arm drift downward? Ask the person to raise their arms, one at a time.

4. See: Is vision lost, either partially or completely? Are they having trouble seeing in one or both eyes?

5. Feel: Sudden, severe headache that wakes them up, and gets worse when they change positions. Nausea, vomiting or seizures may occur. Are they experiencing numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body?

If you notice one or more of these symptoms, call 911 immediately, and request an ambulance with advanced life support. Ask that the ambulance service take you to a hospital with 24 hour emergency stroke care. Keep a list of emergency rescue numbers by the phone, in your cell phone, and in your wallet or purse. Note the time at the onset of stroke symptoms, this will be a very important question to answer when the paramedics or emergency room staff asks.

For more stroke information, contact the American Stroke Association, or American Heart Association.