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F-A-S-T Response to Stroke Symptoms Saves Brain Function

F-A-S-T Response to Stroke Symptoms Saves Brain Function

By Barbara Goodwin, MSN, RN

 

There is a saying in the medical community that “time is brain” when it comes to treating stroke because the longer the brain is without sufficient oxygen, the more damaging a stroke will be. Immediate recognition of stroke symptoms and transportation to the Emergency Department within two hours of the onset of symptoms can make a tremendous difference for someone who has suffered a stroke.

 

What causes a stroke?

 

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted. Brain cells that are deprived of oxygen-rich blood die, causing injury to the brain.

 

There are two kinds of stroke, ischemic and hemorrhagic.  An ischemic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain is blocked by a clot, restricting blood flow to part of the brain. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures due to a weakness in the wall of the vessel, resulting in bleeding inside of the brain.

 

How can I recognize symptoms of stroke?

 

The easiest way to remember the symptoms of stroke is to use the acronym “FAST,” which stands for face, arms, speech, and time. Look at the person’s face, look for weakness on one side of the body, especially the arms, and ask him or her to speak to you. Then act quickly to seek emergency medical attention.

 

The symptoms of stroke come on abruptly from one minute to the next, not over a period of hours or days. Stroke victims often experience a sudden deterioration in the face muscles. One side of the face or mouth will droop. They may have weakness on one side of the body and may not be able to raise one or both of their arms in the air. Their speech is often affected; they may slur their words, have difficulty finding the correct words to express themselves, or call objects by the wrong names.

 

When a person has any or all of these symptoms, time is of the essence. Call an ambulance right away and tell the operator answering the phone that you have a person with signs of stroke.

 

Why is it so important to get treatment immediately?

 

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. and the number one cause of adult disability. Of the people who survive stroke, 90 percent have a deficit. However, if you suffer an ischemic stroke and you get to the Emergency Department within two hours, you may receive medication that will dissolve the clot and minimize brain damage.

 

You should think of stroke as you would think of a heart attack because there is the same level of urgency. Most Americans have heard the expression “time is muscle” in reference to heart attacks. The same notion holds true for stroke, which we also call “brain attack.” Heart cells and brain cells both die when deprived of oxygen; however, permanent damage can often be avoided or minimized if blood flow can be restored within three hours of the onset of symptoms.

 

What should I do while waiting for the ambulance?

 

Keep the person safe, preferably lying on their side. Do not give them anything to drink or eat in case the ability to swallow has been compromised.

 

The ambulance will be in direct contact with the Emergency Department, which is one of the many advantages of ambulance transport. With notice from the EMTs, the medical center CT scan will be readied for quick access once you arrive.

 

How are strokes diagnosed and treated?

 

Strokes are diagnosed with a physical examination and a CT scan of the brain, which identifies whether the stroke is ischemic or hemorrhagic in nature. Doctors will also evaluate heart rhythm with an EKG.

 

When the stroke is ischemic (caused by blockage due to a clot in the vessel), the patient may be eligible for treatment with a clot-busting medication called t-PA (tissue-Plasminogin Activator). This medication must be administered within three hours of the onset of symptoms. Studies show that when t-PA is administered after the three-hour window, it is not effective.

 

If the stroke is hemorrhagic, t-PA will not be administered because it will only exacerbate the bleeding in the brain.  However, doctors can still take steps to minimize the effects of a hemorrhagic stroke, emphasizing the need for an immediate call for an ambulance.

 

Barbara Goodwin, a clinical educator on staff at Cayuga Medical Center, has a master’s degree in nursing and is certified in critical care and in professional staff development. If you would like to have her speak to your community group about stroke prevention and treatment, please call (607) 274-4498 to make arrangements.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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