Medical Column: Am I Having a Stroke?

By: Dr. Leo Larios
Family Medicine Resident
Colquitt Regional Medical Center

Hey, don’t wait! when it comes to a stroke, every minute counts. This is because the less time it takes for you or someone to call 9-1-1, the less time the brain is without vital nutrients and the better the chances it can recover.

There are important factors that put someone at a higher risk for stroke – Elevated blood pressure and/or diabetes that is not well controlled, smoking, high cholesterol, physical inactivity, and diets high in salt and fat. Did you notice these risks are things that we do to ourselves? Yes! all these are factors you can control. Yet, some others are not within your control such as – Age (especially 65 or older), history of prior stroke or mini-stroke, and being a female, among others.  

The most important stroke treatment is time – doctors often say “time is brain”. Recognizing the signs of a stroke is the most important step in obtaining the treatments that work best. You often have 3 hours from the beginning of your symptoms to treatment. This is because doctors either need to dissolve the blood clot quickly to restore blood flow to the brain or need to stop the bleed if you have one.

By now you may be wondering: How can I prepare? You can be a step ahead by recognizing the signs of a stroke. It can show in diverse ways, such as – numbness or weakness in arms, legs, or face, especially if it’s only on one side of the body. Other signs include sudden difficulty speaking or understanding speech, dizziness, lack of coordination or a severe headache than comes on unexpectedly.

In short, by acting F.A.S.T. you can save time and brain. If you believe someone you know is having a stroke act F.A.S.T. by doing this test: (F)ace: Ask the person to smile -is there a facial droop? (A)rms: Ask the person to raise both arms -does one arm drift down? (S)peech: is the speech slurred or strange? (T)ime: call 9-1-1. The key is to get to a hospital as soon as possible.

Should you call EMS even if your symptoms disappeared after a few minutes? Absolutely! You may have had what is sometimes called a “mini-stroke” (doctors call this a Transient Ischemic Attack or TIA). These brief “mini-strokes” are profoundly serious events, and they are usually the preceding signs to a larger stroke that may come with devastating results.

Now that you know “time is brain” during a stroke you have one of the most important pieces of information that you need.  Not everyone is aware of this though, it’s estimated 1 in every 3 people that have a stroke never call the emergency services. Unfortunately, many people ignore the signs of a stroke with grave consequences…but not you! Because now you know to think F.A.S.T if you believe someone is having a stroke.