Cerebrovascular accident (CVA) is a serious medical emergency that requires immediate medical care. Would you know how to recognize the signs?
Cerebrovascular accident or stroke
Cerebrovascular accident, or stroke, can have significant consequences. It is the third ranking cause of death in Canada and is also the first cause of disability. Despite these alarming statistics, 50% of people would not know how to recognize its signs and symptoms.
A stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts or is blocked by a clot. Decreased blood supply to the brain causes the death of brain cells, which are called neurons. The greater the number of affected neurons, the more significant the consequences.
Various symptoms are displayed during a stroke, including the following:
- speech impairment
- paralysis in part of the body
- weakness in part of the body
- memory problems
- difficulty reading
- difficulty counting
- difficulty thinking
- vision problems, and
- difficulty focussing
These deficits can be temporary or permanent depending on the area of the brain that is affected—but also depending on the time elapsed before receiving medical attention. In fact, when it comes to a stroke, every minute counts! Therefore, it is crucial that you and your loved ones know how to recognize the signs and symptoms of this condition. Awareness is the most important step in managing a stroke.
Three questions will enable you to detect the warning signs. These signs appear suddenly. They can last a few minutes or a few hours. The presence of a single symptom is enough to ask for immediate medical assistance.
The order of the questions is based on the mnemonic FAST, provided by the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and serves as a reminder of the main signs of a stroke.
First question: Can you smile at me?
The first question refers to the letter "F" of the mnemonic, for "face". During a stroke, the face often droops and a corner of the mouth falls if the affected person tries to smile.
Paralysis of a part of the body (face, arm, leg, etc.) can also be observed. It usually only affects one side of the body. Individuals who have had a stroke may complain of sudden weakness, numbness or tingling in the face, arm, or leg. They may also experience complete or partial loss of feeling to the touch, to heat or to pain.
Second question: Can you lift your arms?
The second question refers to the letter "A" of the mnemonic, for "arms". During a stroke, it is unlikely that the affected person will be able to raise both arms normally at once. People having a stroke are generally unable to move an arm or experience arm weakness. If they are asked to raise their arms horizontally, it can be clearly observed that one arm is weaker than the other.
Other disabilities such as lack of coordination of movement or sudden loss of balance may occur, sometimes accompanied by dizziness, vertigo or falling.
Third question: Can you speak to me?
The third question refers to the letter "S" of the mnemonic, for "speech". This applies to speech problems. Individuals affected by a stroke often have difficulty speaking or articulating. Even pronouncing simple words is challenging. You can check if this is the case by asking the person to repeat a simple phrase.
A stroke may also make it difficult for the affected person to find the appropriate words and to express them clearly, which can make them seem confused. In some cases, sudden and temporary loss of speech or difficulty understanding the meaning of words occurs. Ask the affected person to name simple objects such as a table or chair. A wrong answer or lack of answer is cause for concern.
The last letter of the mnemonic FAST is certainly the most important! The letter "T" is a reminder that it is "time" to call 9-1-1 immediately. People suffering from a stroke must not drive a vehicle to get to the emergency room. Instead, they must wait calmly for emergency services. If you are accompanying the person having a stroke, note the time at which symptoms appeared. This will make the work of doctors easier and they will use this information to establish the most appropriate medical treatment.
Other signs of a stroke
A stroke can display other signs like vision problems, such as loss of a visual field, complete loss of vision in one eye, both eyes, or double vision. Moreover, unusual and violent headaches accompanied by nausea or vomiting are sometimes related to the onset of a stroke.
Don't be part of the statistics! Knowing how to recognize the warning signs is one of the best guarantees of optimally managing a stroke. The three questions to remember can prevent disabilities that will greatly diminish quality of life of the person affected by a stroke. Isn't it worth the small effort to memorize them?