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Sharp Health News

Stroke awareness: how to respond quickly

May 3, 2021

Dr. Gregory Apel, medical director of the emergency department at Sharp Coronado Hospital, explains the common stroke warning signs and when to seek emergency care.
May is National Stroke Awareness Month. But every day is a good day to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of stroke — the fifth leading cause of death and the primary cause of serious, long-term disability among adults in the U.S.

“A stroke, sometimes referred to as a brain attack, occurs when the blood supply to the brain is blocked by a clot or tear in a blood vessel,” says Dr. Gregory Apel, medical director of the emergency department at Sharp Coronado Hospital.

When someone is having a stroke, every minute counts. Quickly recognizing the signs and symptoms — and immediately calling 911 for emergency medical care — can help save lives and reduce damage to the brain. Dr. Apel recommends the “BE FAST” method to remember the signs of stroke:

B — Balance: Sudden loss of balance
E — Eyes: Sudden blurry or loss of vision

F — Face: Facial weakness or drooping on one side of the face or an asymmetrical smile
A — Arms: Arm or leg weakness or numbness on one side of the body
S — Speech: Altered speech, slurring or the inability to speak or find the right words
T — Time: Act fast and call 911 immediately

If you recognize these symptoms and think someone may be having a stroke, Dr. Apel recommends you do the following:

1. Call an ambulance
If a loved one is having a stroke, your first instinct might be to drive them to the hospital. But in this situation, it’s best to call 911. An ambulance can get to your location and get the person to a hospital quicker. Plus, paramedics are equipped to handle different types of emergency situations. They can offer lifesaving assistance on the way to the hospital, which can potentially reduce damaging effects.

2. Use the word “stroke”
When calling 911 to request help, tell the operator that you think the person is having a stroke. Paramedics will be better prepared to help them, and the hospital can prepare for their arrival.

3. Keep track of symptoms
Your loved one may be unable to communicate at the hospital, so the more information you can provide, the better. Keep a mental or written note of symptoms, including when these symptoms began. If the person has known medical conditions, share that information with the hospital staff.

4. Talk to the person having a stroke
As you wait for the ambulance to arrive, get as much information as possible from the person while they’re still able to communicate. Ask about any medications they’re taking, health conditions they have and known allergies. Write down this information so you can share it with the doctor, in case your loved one is unable to communicate later on.

5. Encourage the person to lie down
If the person is sitting or standing up, encourage them to lie down on their side with their head elevated. This position promotes blood flow to the brain. However, do not move the person if they’ve fallen.

6. Perform CPR, if needed
Some people may become unconscious during a stroke. If this happens, check your loved one to see if they’re still breathing. If you cannot find a pulse, begin CPR. If you don’t know how to perform CPR, the 911 operator can walk you through the process until help arrives.

7. Stay calm
As hard as it might be, try to stay calm throughout this process. It’s easier to communicate with the 911 operator when you’re in a calm state of mind.

“When it comes to stroke, ‘time is brain,’” says Dr. Apel. “Human nervous tissue is rapidly lost as the stroke progresses so it is important to act fast.”

Learn more about Sharp’s nationally recognized stroke centers.

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