Health & Medicine

Stroke is an emergency, requires immediate care

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in Kentucky and nationwide. It's also among the most common causes of long-term disability. Yet many people still fail to understand how serious strokes are or how to recognize the symptoms.

A commonly used acronym used to recognize stroke is FAST. "F" stands for face. Look for drooping of the facial muscles, especially while smiling. "A" stands for arms. With both arms raised, watch to see if one arm drifts downward. "S" stands for speech. Look for slurred or otherwise uncharacteristic speech. "T" stands for time. When it comes to stroke, it is said that "time saved is brain saved," and that is true. Stroke is an emergency, and if any of these signs are observed, it is important seek immediate care.

While FAST is a helpful tool for understanding the most frequent signs of stroke, it is not comprehensive. Some patients experience vision changes, nausea or dizziness. While these can be signs of other illnesses, what distinguishes stroke is the sudden onset of symptoms. When these symptoms seem to come out of nowhere, it is important to get to the emergency room as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, some stroke victims wait hours — even days— to get treatment. Some patients may mistakenly believe that nothing can be done once a stroke occurs. In reality, there are many possible interventions, including blood thinners and "clot busting" medications.

However, these drugs can only be used for a short window of time, and the sooner they are administered, the more likely they are to prevent further damage.

Patients who receive care immediately do better in physical therapy and have a better chance of going home to lead full, independent lives.

Some patients may also be afraid of coming to the emergency room, only to find out their symptoms are nothing serious.

Patients need to understand that no one will fault them for coming to the emergency room, regardless of the diagnosis. It is much better to seek immediate medical attention and find out that you did not have a stroke than to delay treatment and find out you did.

Others simply don't recognize that their symptoms could be an indication of stroke.

They may think numbness in their arm is a result of sleeping on one side, or that their nausea is a gastrointestinal issue. That's why more education is needed.

Thanks to increased awareness of heart attacks, most people now understand that chest pain is an emergency, but we haven't reached the same level of awareness when it comes to stroke.

With more education on the signs and symptoms, more patients will receive care immediately, resulting in better outcomes and lives saved.

If you or someone you love is displaying signs or symptoms of stroke, seek medical attention immediately or call 9-1-1.