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BellaOnline's Geriatrics Editor

Recognizing the Early Warning Signs of a Stroke

Approximately 158,000 people die from stroke in the United States each year. The American Heart Association (AHA) and American Stroke Association (ASA) have developed a community oriented ?Stroke Chain of Survival? that links the roles that can be taken by the patients themselves, their family members, and health care professionals to maximize the chance of recovery from an acute stroke.

These actions include the following:
1. Rapid recognition of the warning signs of a stroke and rapid reaction to this warning.
2. Rapid dispatch of EMS, or emergency medical services, or in other words, call 911 STAT!
3. Rapid transport of the patient by the ambulance to an appropriate hospital and notification of the ER by the paramedics while in route to allow the maximum readiness and subsequent response when the patient arrives
4. Rapid diagnosis and treatment in the hospital setting by the ER staff or stroke response team, if available at that particular hospital

The majority of strokes occur at home. Unfortunately, only half of stroke victims actually arrive at the ER by ambulance. Many have a family member drive them and some even drive themselves, which can be potentially fatal if symptoms worsen in route and the patient loses the ability to steer the vehicle.

Furthermore, many people who suffer an acute stroke either ignore their symptoms thinking they will go away on their own or they rationalize them by attributing their symptoms to some other cause.

Since close to 700,000 people suffer a stroke each year it is imperative to know the early warning signs of a stroke and call 911 immediately should suspicious symptoms arise.

The following are common symptoms of a stroke:
1. Abrupt onset of numbness or weakness of the face (a droopy face on one side), arm, or leg, especially if the weakness is on only one side of the body.
2. Abrupt onset of confusion
3. Difficulty speaking/slurred speech
4. Difficulty understanding what is being said or understanding what is going on in your environment
5. Sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes, blurred vision, or double vision
6. Clumsiness of an extremity, such as dropping a glass due to weakness
7. Difficulty walking or inability to walk normally
8. Dizziness or vertigo (a sensation that you or your environment is spinning/moving)
9. Sudden onset of a severe headache with no other obvious cause, such as a prior history of migraines.

Of course, some of these symptoms are ultimately diagnosed to be caused by a condition far less serious than a stroke. Nevertheless, it is better to be safe than sorry. The most advanced treatment for the most common form of stroke (?clot busters?) can only be administered if the patient arrives at the ER within a few hours of the onset of the symptoms. Many use 3 hours as the cut off when deciding whether or not to administer this potentially life-altering medication.
Editor recommendation:
ThePatient Whiz is a credit card-size 1 GB USB flash drive that easily fits into your wallet to empower you to keep copies of EKGs, lab results, medications lists and much more with you at all times. It doubles as a patient empowerment tool with articles such as the one above.

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Content copyright © 2013 by A. Maria Hester, M.D.. All rights reserved.
This content was written by A. Maria Hester, M.D.. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Patricia Villani, MPA, PhD for details.

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