Andrew Reeves, M.D.
What happened to my arm? Why can’t I walk right? What’s wrong with mom’s face? It’s drooping on one side and her words don’t make any sense at all.
Stroke hits someone about every 40 seconds in the United States — and suddenly life is changed.
A stroke happens when the blood supply to part of your brain is interrupted, so brain tissue doesn’t get oxygen and nutrients. Almost immediately those circuits stop working, and soon they die. A stroke is a medical emergency, and getting treatment quickly is a matter of…well, you know.
There is good news: we may be able to do something if we get the patient soon enough. That’s why it’s important to know the common warning signs of a stroke. Once you see the signs, it’s time to dial 911.
Stroke symptoms come on suddenly, and there’s an acronym to make it easy to recognize and act on these symptoms: Think “FAST”.
Face. Ask the person to smile. Does one side of their face droop?
Arms. Ask the person to lift up both arms. Does one arm drift downward, or is one arm unable to raise up?
Speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple or common phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange-sounding?
Time. If you notice any of these signs, call 911, because after 4½ hours, treatment options evaporate quickly.
Many factors increase the risk of stroke — they include:
- Physical inactivity
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Being overweight or obese
- A personal or family history of stroke or heart attack
- Being over age 55
- Certain irregular heart rhythms
It’s worth repeating: If you have the symptoms of a stroke (Think FAST), call 911 and get to a hospital right away. Treatment for a stroke depends on whether you have a narrowed or blocked brain artery, in which case clot-busting medications may be used; or if you have a ruptured brain artery, in which case surgery is sometimes appropriate.
Beyond the Obvious
Stroke triggers depression in more than half of people who’ve suffered a stroke. It also can cause less-obvious changes, in addition to changing how the family functions. If you or someone you know have had a stroke, make sure to get whole-person care. Encourage them to speak to a health care professional if they have questions or concerns, not just about the obvious changes after a stroke.
For yourself, your family and everyone else you care about, take time to know the symptoms of a stroke (Think FAST). Encourage others to become aware as well, and learn about your personal risk factors. That way, if or when we meet, it’s less likely to be in the Emergency Department.Andrew Reeves, M.D., is a Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato neurologist.