This article will help you identify stroke early and fast so that timely treatment can be given.
Have you heard of a heart attack? Well, a stroke is a brain attack.
A stroke is a condition where the blood supply to the brain is temporarily or permanently cut off.
A diagnosis of a stroke can be devastating. It not only affects the patient, but also affects the family members in more ways than one.
Until a few years ago, the treatment for strokes had remained simple medical therapies and physiotherapy. However, much has changed since then.
While the basic management plan remains the same, the treatments that are available after a diagnosis of stroke has been made have advanced quite remarkably.
In India, around 1.5 million people suffer from a stroke every year. Around 3000 to 4000 people are affected by a stroke every single day. These are worrying statistics.
It is therefore important that a stroke be diagnosed early. This way, treatment can be started early and the patient can improve quickly and without much disability.
Before I discuss how you can identify a stroke early, I will quickly discuss what a stroke is and what problems it causes.
What Is A Stroke?
In the medical world, a stroke is called a ”cerebrovascular accident”.
In simple terms, a stroke occurs when a part of the brain does not receive blood supply. This can happen due to many reasons.
The blood supply to the brain can be reduced because of the formation of a blood clot in an artery in the brain. This means that particular part of the brain that needs blood to function ceases to do so.
This is sometimes called ischemic stroke.
For example, if a blood clot blocks an artery supplying a part of the brain that controls the left arm, then that arm will become weak and limp. Milder cases may only notice a slight change in their strength or numbness in the arm.
Bleeding within the brain is another cause of a stroke. This is called hemorrhagic stroke.
Bleeding can affect any part of the brain. It is usually caused from an injury, high blood pressure or blood thinning medication.
Finally, a stroke may occur if a blood clot from the heart breaks off and enters the circulation in the brain. This is called embolic stroke and is seen in people with atrial fibrillation.
The treatment of stroke depends on the cause of the stroke and the type. Patients who have a blood clot will need blood thinners, and those with a bleed sometimes need surgery (and not blood thinners).
There is one particular type of stroke called a transient ischemic attack, or TIA. This is a condition where the blood supply to the brain is reduced for a short while only. The patient recovers within a matter of minutes to hours, usually in less that 24 hours.
A TIA is sometimes a warning sign of a stroke.
What Are The Risk Factors For A Stroke?
Many risk factors have been described, and are similar to the risk factors for a heart attack. The table below lists the common risk factors for a stroke.
How Can You Identify Stroke?
It is important to identify a stroke early. Early identification helps the doctor to give lifesaving and ‘brain-saving’ treatments early.
So how can you identify a stroke early?
F = Facial Drooping
Drooping of one side of the face is one of the first signs of a stroke. This is usually noticed by family members who find that the angle of the mouth is drooping down on one side.
A = Arm Weakness
You may notice your arm getting weak. Some people may be unable to move their arm at all. In a large stroke, the leg on the same side may get affected.
S = Speech Difficultly
Slurring of speech is also an early sign that is noticed by family members. Patients may find it difficult to ask for help.
T = Time To Call For Help!
If you notice any of these signs yourself, or a family member sees them, then time to call for help!!! Either call your doctor immediately, or take the patient to the nearest hospital.
These are currently recognised all over the world as signs to identify stroke.
Why Should You Act Fast?
With every minute that the brain does not receive blood, the damage becomes irreversible and significant.
Timely measures can help save brain tissues and allow for a complete recovery.
What Will Be Done In The Hospital?
If a patient comes to casualty within 2 hours of developing symptoms, then an emergency brain scan (either CT scan or MRI) will be performed. If required, an ultrasound scan of the arteries in the neck (carotid doppler ultrasound) may be performed. Blood tests to check blood sugar levels and lipid levels will be conducted.
If a blood clot is present, then clot dissolving treatments are now available. These treatments are called thrombolytics. These will be administered under the guidance of a neurologist or a stroke specialist.
Blood thinners are the main treatments given to treat a stroke.These include aspirin and clopidogrel, and in some cases dipyridamole. These medicines will need to be taken for life.
Depending on how the stroke has affected the patient, physiotherapy will be planned to help restore the best possible movement and quality of life possible. Patients will also require changes made at home to accommodate their new needs.
Depression is a common complication of stroke and some patients may require psychological counseling.
While many patients recover reasonably well from a stroke within a year, sadly some do not recover at all and may be left debilitated.
It is therefore essential that a stroke be identified early.
A diagnosis of a stroke can be devastating. Remember the word ‘FAST’ to identify stroke so that timely action can be taken and long term disability can be reduced.
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