The five major signs of stroke are the sudden onset of:
1. Numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body. The loss of voluntary movement and/or sensation may be complete or partial. There may also be an associated tingling sensation in the affected area.
2. Confusion, trouble speaking or understanding. Sometimes weakness in the muscles of the face can cause drooling.
3. Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
4. Trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
5. Severe headache with no known cause
If any of the symptoms mentioned above suddenly appear, immediate emergency medical attention should be sought. The first action should be to call 911 if it is available. The goal is to get the stroke victim to a hospital as quickly as possible to confirm the diagnosis. An urgent medical decision is necessary in the emergency room to determine whether thrombolytic or clot busting drugs can potentially reverse the stroke situation. There is a very limited window of opportunity from the onset of symptoms to when this therapy can be used. If delays occur, the opportunity to intervene is lost.
While waiting for the ambulance, the following first aid suggestions may be helpful:
The affected person should lie flat to promote an optimal blood flow to the brain.
If drowsiness, unresponsiveness, or nausea are present, the person should be placed in the rescue position on their side to prevent choking should vomiting occur.
Although aspirin plays a major role in stroke prevention, once the symptoms of a stroke begin, it is generally recommended that additional aspirin not be taken until the patient receives medical attention. If stroke is of the bleeding type, aspirin could theoretically make matters worse. Moreover, patients with stroke may have swallowing difficulties and may choke on the pill.
Three commands, known as the Cincinnati Prehospital Stroke Scale, may help to determine if the potential for stroke exists. Ask the patient to do the following:
1. Smile: the face should move symmetrically
2. Raise both arms: looking for weakness on one side of the body
3. Speak a simple sentence
If a potential stroke victim cannot perform these tasks, 911 should be called to activated the emergency medical system.
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About Abraham Tekola, MD
Dr. Abrham Tekola practices family practice in Carmichael, California.