May is American Stroke Month, a time when many organizations and medical groups work to build awareness about stroke. The most important message to get across is that stroke can be preventable and if you are having a stroke, time is of the essence. But to act fast, you must first know the warning signs.
I remember when I was having my stroke; the first thing that happened was my right arm became weak and numb. I kept dropping my pen. I blew it off at first and just thought I must be really tired. Then I started talking to a co-worker and he kept looking at me like I was talking in a different language. He finally told me that he couldn't understand a word I was saying.
In a matter of minutes, I went from having a numb arm to a drawn face and slurring every word I spoke. This is when I started to get worried. I remember even joking around saying I think I'm having a stroke. But I really didn't believe it because being 31-years-old, I thought I was too young. Strokes are for elderly people I kept telling myself. I even got on the computer and with my left hand typed my symptoms on a medical website. The answer came back as a stroke and that's when I panicked.
Luckily I was at work at the time and was urged to go to the hospital. Once I arrived, it had only been about 20 minutes from my first symptom. I remember the doctors asked me that, but not until about an hour after I arrived. I went right back, but the doctors kept saying I had bell's palsy, which is a condition that causes facial muscles to weaken or become paralyzed. They told me that it is not permanent and would wear off in a couple of hours or days.
I was relieved and knew it couldn't have been a stroke. But then, I stepped off the table and nearly fell over. My right leg was numb and gave out on me. That's when the emergency room doctor panicked. A neurologist was in my room in just a matter of minutes and determined right away that I was having a stroke. That's when he asked me when I had my first symptom. Luckily, it had been within the three hour window and I was able to receive the clot-busting drug tPA.
Since my stroke, the hospital where I was treated has become a primary stroke center by the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations. That means emergency workers are now trained even further in recognizing and treating stroke in a timely manner.
So, while many hospitals are ready to treat stroke victims, we need to make sure stroke victims get to the hospital. The American Stroke Association says the most common signs of stroke are:
- sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- sudden severe headache with no known cause
If you believe someone you know could be having a stroke, there is a quick test you can do. It's called F.A.S.T.
F is for face. Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop? A is for arms. Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward? S is for speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence like "It's sunny today." Are the words slurred? Can the person repeat the sentence correctly? And T is for time. If the person has any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately. For every second you wait, precious brain tissue is being lost, which increases your chances of disability or worse, death.