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Published on January 17, 2014

The Signs of Stroke

You know that you need to take good care of your body for a lot of reasons, and that includes doing everything you can to avoid a debilitating stroke. But there’s more to stroke safety than living a healthy lifestyle. It’s important to know the early warning signs if and when a stroke occurs.

Getting immediate medical attention is vital in increasing you chances of survival and reducing the amount of disability caused by a stroke. Catherine Spahr, the Stroke Program Coordinator of The Diamond Stroke Center at Abington Memorial Hospital, explains why.

“Knowing the signs of stroke is important because there’s a special medication that can only be given within the first three hours symptoms after symptoms appear,” said Spahr.

So what’s so special about this medicine?

Back in the 1990s, a drug called tPA (tissue plasminogen activator) was developed to treat ischemic stroke, which is the most common type of stroke.

“tPA breaks up the blood clot blocking the blood vessel during this particular type of stroke," said Spahr. “And it’s only safe to administer the drug to a patient within the three-hour window, although some recent literature suggests it may be considered within four and a half hours, in certain circumstances.”

Unfortunately, only a small number of stroke patients actually receive tPA during the golden time frame. Sometimes patients ignore the signs and symptoms and don’t call EMS in time. This is why understanding the symptoms is so important.

Spahr says that a lack of education about stroke symptoms is one of the main reasons why patients aren’t able to get the treatment they need in a timely manner. Many people don’t even realize they’re experiencing a stroke and will often wait as long as a day before seeing a doctor.

“During a ‘mini stroke,’ symptoms may come and go. But it’s important for people to follow up with their physicians since there is still an ischemic event happening,” said Spahr. “It’s a red flag; if it happened, it means something’s going on.”

As soon as you or someone you know shows signs of stroke, Spahr says to call 911 as soon as possible. “Not your mother, brother, or physician—you need to get emergency help immediately.”

To help you identify the symptoms of stroke, remember the following acronym, F.A.S.T.

Face drooping: A numb or drooping face is a common stroke symptom. A good way to check is to have the person smile and see if it’s uneven.

Arm weakness: A numb or weak arm will make it difficult for someone having a stroke to raise both arms. When arms are raised, see if one arm is drifting down.

Speech difficulty: Slurred speech or inability to speak is another common stroke symptom. The person should try repeating a simple sentence, such as “The grass is green,” to see if he is able to repeat is correctly.

Time to call 911: If you or someone you know is showing any of these symptoms, call 911 and get to a hospital—even if the symptoms go away. Try to check the time so you know when symptoms first appeared.

 Additional sudden warning signs you should be aware of include:

  • Sudden confusion or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one eye or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause



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