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Early Signs of a Stroke

Early Signs of a Stroke

May marks National Stroke Awareness Month, so we want to do our part to spread the word. As the American Stroke Association says, “Act FAST,” when you notice signs of a stroke in yourself or someone else.

We can’t tell you how many stories we’ve heard from patients who either experienced a TIA (mini-stroke) or a full-blown stroke, and simply ignored or pretended the early signs away, hoping it wasn’t an emergency or blaming symptoms on something else.

Every minute counts, because the longer your brain experiences a blockage or a bleed, the more brain damage can occur. Failure to pay attention to early stroke signs can result in far more severe side effects or outcomes than if you seek help quickly.

Act F.A.S.T. to Prevent Serious, Long-Term Effects of a Stroke

The acronym F.A.S.T. was designed to create instant recall for those who observe the following signs in themselves or someone near you (family, friends, at work, in the grocery store aisle, etc.) so you can seek immediate medical assistance.

Feel free to watch this funny, video parody about F.A.S.T., created by the AHA. If you notice one or more of the following F.A.S.T. symptoms call 9-1-1, or get the person to the nearest urgent care/ER, ASAP to optimize his/her chances of recovery.

  • F: Face. Often, those having a stroke or a small transient ischemic attack (TIA) lose motor control on one side of their face, which results in a lopsided smile or set of their lips. Ask the person to smile and see if one side droops.
  • A: Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. If one drops downward or seems to sag notably compared to the other, it’s a sign.
  • S: Speech: People experiencing a stroke often experience slurring or something called aphasia, where they can’t find their words well or at all. They may also insert strange words that don’t make sense or are confusing when strung together in “sentences.”
  • T: Time: Never forget that time is of the essence. Call 9-1-1 immediately if there isn’t an ER or urgent care right close by.

Additional Signs of a Stroke

While it’s true that heart disease, high blood pressure and kidney disease puts adults at higher risk for a stroke, there are cases where adults with totally healthy medical records experience TIAs or a stroke. Often, these individuals are the most likely to ignore the signs because they assume symptoms are related to fatigue or a flu.

The signs indicated by F.A.S.T. are the most common signs of a stroke. There are also others you should pay attention to.

Numbness or weakness

People having a stroke often recall experiencing an unusual numbness or weakness in the face, arms or limbs –typically on one side of the body.

Confusion or difficulty communicating clearly (loss of words)

This is referred to in the ‘S’ (speech) of F.A.S.T., but when the clot or hemorrhage in the brain occurs near certain thought or speech processing centers, people feel confused, have difficulty completing full thoughts or they can’t find their words.

Vision problems

They may suddenly have a hard time seeing clearly out of one or both eyes.

Trouble walking

Balance and coordination can also be affected, causing a dizzy sensation or loss of balance. They may have a hard time walking.

For example, one patient struggled to make it out of his chair and up the entire flight of stairs to his bed – but assumed he was just tired or his leg fell asleep. Now, looking back, it’s clear to him that the difficulty walking lasted far longer – and had more numbness than tingling – that if his leg had simply fallen asleep. He should have called 9-1-1 then.

Sudden, severe headache

Again, the blood clot trapped in the blood vessel or a hemorrhage can cause an immediate and intense headache (similar to that experienced by those having an aneurism). Any atypical headache that comes on hard and fast should always be examined by a doctor, especially when it’s accompanied by any of the above symptoms.

Knowing the early signs and symptoms of a stroke can not only prevent debilitating side effects, it could potentially save a life. As we head into May and the busy, outdoor season, the team at Palouse Specialty Physicians wishes your household a healthy and happy rest of your spring.

Published on April 24, 2019