Stroke, sometimes referred to as a cerebrovascular accident (CVA) is a potentially catastrophic condition that has the potential to change a life forever. A stroke can be immediately fatal or leave its victim with permanent brain damage. On the other hand, there is often a very good outcome, and the signs and symptoms that accompanied the acute stroke may resolve completely, leaving no visible or mental after effects.
While the long-term consequences of a stroke can vary dramatically, early treatment provides the best chance for a complete recovery. So it is imperative for everyone to know early warning signs of a stroke. Millions of people suffer a stroke each year and it is a leading cause of death. Knowing what to look for should you or a loved one develop stroke symptoms can be life-saving.
The American Stroke Association has an easy-to-understand acronym to aid in early recognition of a stroke, called F.A.S.T.
Face - A common stroke sign is an asymmetric appearance of the face. For instance, there may be drooping of one side of the mouth, one eyelid may appear droopy, or the normal facial wrinkles may appear to be smoother than usual.
Arm - A person experiencing a stroke may notice weakness of an arm. Sometimes both arms may be affected. An easy test for weakness is to have the person hold out her arms. If she cannot hold one up against gravity, and it drifts downward, that may be a sign of a stroke. Likewise, if the ability to lift a coffee cup or other items is impaired, this may also indicate the presence of a stroke. However, it is important to note that other conditions can cause weakness in an arm or hand, such as a pinched nerve in the neck or muscle inflammation.
Speech - Garbled or slurred speech is another common warning sign of a stroke. Sometimes the person having the stroke is unaware her speech has changed and a family member or friend notices the abnormal speech during a normal conversation.
Time - Seeking immediate medical care is extremely important. Time wasted could cause irreversible damage to vital neurons. If there is any reason to believe you may be having a stroke, call 911. Do not try to drive yourself or have a family member drive you to the hospital. Paramedics are well-trained to recognize a stroke and can relay vital information to the emergency room while en route, as well as prepare you to receive prompt treatment. This can expedite the ER evaluation significantly. If the stroke is due to a blood clot, a clot buster may be administered, a procedure referred to as thrombolysis. However, there is a narrow window of time during which this powerful drug can be administered safely. If the doctor cannot administer this medication within 4 1/2 hours of the onset of symptoms, it is too dangerous to administer it at all.
Remember, if you experience any signs of a stroke, act fast. It may save your life.