May is National Stroke Month, which aims to increase awareness of stroke symptoms and first aid treatment, as well as to educate people on the ways they can decrease their risk of having a stroke. With strokes as the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S., knowing how to react quickly is necessary to saving lives and preventing permanent disability.
What Is a Stroke?
A stroke occurs when part of the brain’s blood supply is decreased or prevented entirely, depriving the brain of oxygen. For every minute a stroke goes untreated, 2 million brain cells are lost, which is why fast action is crucial to preventing paralysis, memory loss, and death, among other serious complications.
There are two main kinds of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic. Ischemic strokes are far more common, accounting for around 87% of all strokes, and are caused by a narrowing or complete blockage of a blood vessel in the brain, usually because of a blood clot.
Less common but often considered more deadly, hemorrhagic strokes occur when a blood vessel in the brain begins leaking or ruptures entirely. The victim may suffer from a sudden headache, a symptom not usually present in ischemic strokes. Several factors can increase the risk of suffering a hemorrhagic stroke, including aneurysms, overconsumption of blood thinners, high blood pressure, and trauma.
Use the BE FAST acronym to assess someone for the signs of a stroke:
- Balance: the victim has difficulty balancing, standing, or walking
- Eyes: the victim’s vision is blurred, or they’re unable to see out of one or both eyes
- Face: one side of the victim’s face is drooping—ask them to try smiling if you’re unsure
- Arm: the victim is unable to raise both of their arms, or one arm drifts downward when they try
- Speech: the victim’s speech is slurred or incoherent—ask them to repeat a simple phrase is you’re unsure
- Time: quick reaction is necessary—if you notice any of these signs, call 911 immidiately
First Aid for Stroke Victims
After calling 911, try, with as much accuracy as possible, to note the time you first noticed symptoms. Some treatments for strokes work best when administered within a certain timeframe, so keep track of the passing time and be prepared to inform the medical professionals when they arrive.
Help the victim lay down on their side in the recovery position. Keep their head raised and supported to prevent airway obstruction in the event they vomit. Try not to move the victim after putting them in a comfortable and safe position, especially arms and legs that showed signs of weakness during the BE FAST test.
Do not give the victim food or drink. Stay with them until help arrives and observe, watching for any changes in their condition—the more information you can give the first responders, the better. If the victim stops breathing, check for airway obstructions and begin CPR. If you’re untrained, 911 operators can walk you through the process of hands-only resuscitation.
Strokes are just one of the many medical emergencies where knowing CPR can be the difference between life and death. Proper CPR certification ensures that when disaster strikes, you’ll be able to help. For more information about CPR certification or to sign up for a class, visit us at the Specialized Health and Safety website.