Quickly recognizing and taking action when a person is having a stroke is vital to minimizing any permanent damage to their body. As health care clinicians, my coworkers and I strive to educate our patients and community members on the signs and symptoms of stroke. Yet I still hear stories from patients, and sometimes even medical providers, about situations where the symptoms of a stroke weren’t recognized right away.
Recently, a middle-aged patient told me: “I have had vertigo for several years now. I usually know when I am about to get it; the room starts to spin. My physical therapist has showed me a maneuver for dealing with the condition. When I woke up on one morning I felt dizzy — nothing like I have felt before. I had double vision and tingling around my left lip. I kept waiting for the room to spin but it never did. I called my primary care physician who told me to immediately go to the emergency room. At the ER, I had a CT scan, which came negative, so I was sent home.”
When these unusual symptoms came, this patient thought they were related in some way to the vertigo and did not connect them to a stroke. His story continues, "The next day my double vision was worse, I had severe nausea, and I couldn’t walk straight. I felt as if I was overly drunk. That was the day I fell." The patient was taken to the ER via ambulance and an MRI revealed a medullary stroke.
What to Look For
The FAST acronym (Face dropping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, Time to call) is usually used to identify if someone is having a stroke. Additional symptoms to look for are:
· Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech
· Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
· Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
· Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
· Sudden severe headache with no known cause
The key word here is SUDDEN. Together we need to spread this awareness of educating as many individuals as we can of the early signs of stroke and the importance of seeking immediate medical care.
According to a national survey commissioned by the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center (1,009 respondents), a surprising 75 percent of Americans under the age of 45 do not know the signs and symptoms of stroke. Another frightening finding was 76 percent of those say they would likely wait out symptoms of weakness, numbness, or difficulty with vision. A common problem we encounter is many younger people dismiss telling someone about symptoms because they think that strokes only occur in the elderly.
When something is painful, treatment is sought out right away. Strokes usually come with no pain and therefore are easily ignored by most people. Among people who don’t get treatment right away after a stroke, about a quarter will die, about half will live with some form of significant handicap, and only about a quarter will live with a reasonable good outcome.
Knowledge allows us to make educated choices. Be informed, recognize the signs, do not be in denial, and seek help as necessary. During this year’s National Stroke Awareness Month, I challenge all health care providers to pledge to educate at least ten people of the warning signs of a stroke. Drop by drop we will fill the ocean