How to act fast if a stroke is suspected

Knowing how to recognize a stroke could mean the difference between life or death, for you, someone close to you, or anyone you happen to be around at the exact moment a stroke is suffered. Knowing the signs means being able to reach the hospital faster. Knowing these signs is extremely important, as there is a 4.5-hour window during which clot-busting treatment is most effective.

No apparent risk factors need to exist for a stroke to take place. If you think you or someone near you is experiencing a stroke, it's best to be safe. If you suspect it, you're not wasting doctors' time. Because there's a very short window to act in, acting quickly is imperative.

Remind yourself that most people survive a heart attack or stroke. Once you've called 911, knowing exactly what to do before the paramedics arrive can help you improve the odds of recovery. Part of what increases these odds is your knowledge helping to keep the patient still and calm. Doing so minimizes the pressure on the cardiovascular system and reduces the amount of oxygen the body requires.

Here are the signs of a stroke and what you need to do if your or someone near you starts to show them.

How to act fast if a stroke is suspected

Signs of a stroke

Here are the five common signs of a stroke:

  1. Sudden weakness, numbness or paralysis on one side of the face, one arm or one leg, even if it's only temporary.
  2. Sudden difficulty speaking or understanding, or general confusion, even if it's only temporary.
  3. Sudden trouble seeing, even if it's only temporary.
  4. Sudden severe headache.
  5. Sudden dizziness or loss of balance.

If you are alone

  • Unlock the front door so it can be opened from outside.
  • Stay calm.
  • Sit or lie down.
  • Have the phone ready, next to you.
  • Do not eat or drink anything other than small sips of water.
  • Call a neighbour or family member to wait with you.

If you are supporting someone else

  • Don't leave the person alone.
  • Help him or her to sit or lie down in order to be more comfortable.
  • Check the time. This information may be helpful to the ambulance crew.
  • Offer reassurance that the ambulance is on its way.
  • Don't give food or drinks, besides water (except when the patient has medication to take in case of an attack — in which case, give it at once).
  • Call the person's doctor. Information about past medical history may be helpful to the ambulance crew and hospital doctors.
  • If possible, gather all the patient's current medication so that this can be sent to the hospital with the patient.
  • If you know basic first aid, do an ABC check: Airways, Breathing and Circulation.
  • If the patient vomits, turn his or her head to one side to reduce the risk of choking.
  • Watch out for signs of cardiac arrest — where the heart stops beating altogether. The person will stop breathing and will not have a pulse. Be prepared to start resuscitation.
  • If the person is unconscious, place him or her into recovery position, but continue to watch breathing to see if resuscitation is needed.

Although it's not something that you're likely to encounter every day, keep this information in mind just in case you or someone near to you suffers a stroke.

The material on this website is provided for entertainment, informational and educational purposes only and should never act as a substitute to the advice of an applicable professional. Use of this website is subject to our terms of use and privacy policy.
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