How To Perform First Aid for Someone Having a Stroke
Increasing your knowledge of first aid is an important step to take if you want to be able to stay calm and provide assistance during emergency situations. If you are close to or care for anyone who is elderly, and/or at risk for a stroke, you should be aware of the following signs and symptoms, and how to help.
What is a stroke?
A stroke is pressure or bleeding in the brain. If a blood vessel in the brain has a weak spot, it may balloon out, putting pressure on surrounding areas and causing a stroke. When the balloon bursts, it causes a worse episode, with blood damaging surrounding tissue in the brain.
Signs and Symptoms
Because each hemisphere of the brain controls one half (the opposite half) of the body, stroke symptoms present themselves of one side of the body only. Therefore, you may see the characteristic facial expression where one half of the face is drooping, or seems paralyzed. The expression the person is trying to show will only show on one half of the face, and speech may be slurred as control of the mouth on one side may be affected as well. Speech may also be affected if the speech region in the brain is afflicted. In addition, the victim may experience pain, numbness, tingling or weakness on one side of the body. This will cause difficulty walking. The victim may report blurred vision or "spots" in front or the eyes, or a blinding headache. The victim may also be confused, answering questions such as "what day is it?" incorrectly, or failing to remember simple information told to him/her less than a minute before. Please keep in mind that a victim may be having a stroke even if only one of these symptoms is apparent, even if the symptom does not present strongly. Any one of these symptoms, especially seen in a person over the age of 50, requires attention to determine if a stroke is occurring.
Like a heart attack, a stroke can be brought on by physical exertion or extreme heat. A history of previous strokes, high blood pressure, or aneurysms anywhere in the body (but especially in the brain) puts a person at higher risk for having a stroke. If the victim is conscious, asking questions to determine if there is a history of any of the above can help determine whether or not a stroke is occurring.
As always in first aid, it is important to get the victim to relax in a comfortable position. The more physical exertion and/or stress, the harder the heart beats and the worse the pressure on the area of the brain in which the stroke is occurring. Emergency Medical Services (911 in most North American Cities) should be contacted as soon as possible if a stroke is suspected. Remember never to hang up on the 911 operator, as they really do need the answers to all of the questions they ask! If you have a cell phone, use that to remain near the victim while on the phone. Monitor the victim's breathing, pulse and level of consciousness while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. Ask if this has happened before and if the victim has medication for it. You should never administer medication to someone you don't know, but you can retrieve the medication and help the victim open the package. Try to find out what the victim was doing when the symptoms first appeared. Keep most conversation light to reduce the victim's anxiety.
Transient Ischemic Attacks
Occasionally, stroke symptoms will last for less than twenty minutes and then seemingly disappear. When this happens, it is known as a Transient Ischemic Attack, and it is just as serious as a stroke. Having one puts a person at high risk for future attacks or strokes, and discovering the cause of the attack could save the victim's life. 911 must still be called, and if the victim "feels fine" and doesn't want to wait for the ambulance, you should do your best to convince them to stay. It may be the most worthwhile argument you ever have!
Remembering this information could save yourself or someone who love. Good luck and good health!