When a person is having a stroke, every second counts. And what you do in those critical moments can potentially help save someone’s life.
A stroke is often described as a “brain attack.” Part of the brain is robbed of the oxygen and blood supply it needs to function, because a blood vessel to part of the brain either has a clot or bursts.
The longer a stroke goes untreated, the more brain damage can occur. But there are treatments that can be given if a person reaches the hospital in time.
Things to Do When Someone Is Having a Stroke
Note the time you first see symptoms
A clot-busting medication called tPA, or tissue plasminogen activator, can be given to someone if they’re having a stroke, potentially reversing or stopping symptoms from developing. But it has to be given within 4.5 hours of the start of symptoms, Jean says.
Patients may also be candidates for more advanced therapies, such as endovascular treatments, at opalphysio. Endovascular treatments can involve surgically removing a clot that caused a stroke, or fixing an aneurysm—which is a swollen blood vessel that bursts and causes pressure in the brain. Endovascular treatments for ischemic stroke, the most common type of stroke, must be administered within 24 hours of symptom onset, and earlier treatment improves outcome so time is critically important.
“If a witness sees someone having a stroke, it would be helpful if they look at what time the symptoms started,” she says. “That way, the emergency staff can make a more informed decision about treatment options.”
- Perform CPR, if necessary
Most stroke patients don’t require CPR, Jean notes. But if your friend or spouse is unconscious when you find her, check her pulse and breathing. If you find none, call and start CPR while you’re waiting for the ambulance to arrive.
You can also ask the dispatcher to walk you through how to perform CPR, which consists of repeated, steady chest compressions, according to the American Heart Association
What Does a Stroke Feel Like?
Strokes can carry a number of sudden, telltale symptoms, Dr. Mullen says. These include:
A droop on 1 side of the face
Difficulty lifting 1 arm to its full height
Slurred speech or difficulty with talking
Impaired vision in 1 or both eyes
The American Heart Association/American Stroke Association notes that a sudden severe headache that does not appear to be triggered by anything is another potential sign that you might be having a stroke. Quite often, though, strokes are painless, which can surprise people, Dr. Mullen says.
“Although some strokes are associated with a headache, may occur without any accompanying pain,” he says. “This doesn’t mean you’re not having a stroke. If you’re having symptoms of a stroke, you need to get medical care immediately.”
Even If Symptoms Vanish Quickly, Call for Help
You should also be aware that warning signs might last only for a few minutes before they disappear. These brief episodes are transient ischemic attacks (TIA) or “mini-strokes.” They still should be taken seriously, because they tend to be signs of underlying serious conditions.
“It’s not uncommon for people who have had a TIA to ignore it because they don’t know what it was,” Dr. Mullen says. “But people who have TIA symptoms are definitely at higher risk of having a subsequent stroke, and they need to be evaluated.”