Recently, stroke advocates have done a wonderful job of educating the public on understanding the signs of a stroke. Many of you probably recognize the acronym FAST. This was first introduced in the UK and has now become a recognized way of educating the public by organizations such as the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation.
F (Face) – facial droop – is their smile uneven or are they experiencing numbness to one side of the face?
A (Arms) – does one arm drift down when both are raised or does one arm feel weak and numb?
S (Speech)- is speech slurred or nonsensical? Is it difficult to swallow?
T (Time) – time is brain. CALL 911
This acronym targets the most common signs of a stroke. But it’s important to understand that a stroke can affect people differently. In some cases, a person experiencing a stroke may not display the typical signs and symptoms you would expect. A stroke can impact a person’s vision, cognition and ability to understand speech even though they may appear no different physically. It is important to understand these signs so that a stroke is not overlooked. For example, can the person follow directions, read a simple sentence or write their name? Can they focus on a conversation? Consider changes such as:
The person may suddenly appear to be disoriented. They may be unable to express themselves or follow a one-step direction. They may express frustration that the word they want is “on the tip of their tongue” but they are unable to find it. In other cases, it might be possible for them to hold a short, coherent conversation but as they continue to speak it will become evident, that they are not following what is being said and their answers will become vague or nonsensical. They may start speaking ‘gibberish’ without realizing their words aren’t making sense. They may become upset when people do not understand or properly respond to what they are trying to say.
IF YOU SUSPECT SOMEONE HAS HAD A STROKE, ask yourself if they can follow your directions when going through the FAST steps. See if they can repeat a simple phrase AND ask them to write it down.
A stroke may also be accompanied by a severe headache which people report can be worse than a migraine. This headache might have been present for days and is typically felt at the back of the head. It may or may not be accompanied by visual changes. It usually does not respond well to pain relievers and may ‘come and go’ depending on what position a person is in. For example, it may increase when lying on their back. They may report a feeling of dizziness along with a headache.
A person may start bumping into objects on the left side when trying to walk. They may experience blurred or double vision, or describe dark spots that appear to be floating in front of their eyes. People experiencing a stroke may report feeling as if they are looking through a kaleidoscope, or as if they are viewing objects underwater. They may have difficulty recognizing and/or naming familiar objects or people. If trying to read, they may report that words seem to be floating on the paper or express frustration that parts of the words appear to be missing. They may or may not be aware of their deficits and become upset if these are pointed out.
A stroke may not present as numbness or weakness to one side only and may only impact a person’s face, arm or leg. Alternately, a person may experience a general feeling of weakness all over the body, or describe a painful or burning sensation to their face or limbs, In most cases, physical signs are usually accompanied by difficulty with balance and coordination. For example, a person may suddenly fall, drop a cup or find themselves unable to reach and grasp an object. Others may notice they have a crooked smile or that they are drooling while eating without seeming to be aware. Another indicator of potential stroke is a sudden change in the person’s mood or personality. This can be very frightening for everyone.
In many cases, people experiencing these symptoms may be tempted to lie down and hope they disappear. They may be reluctant to contact help – especially when symptoms are not typical. It is important to call 911 immediately if experiencing any of these symptoms. A stroke can be very serious but when treated as quickly as possible the outcome will be far better than if you wait. Remember, that time is brain so never hesitate to seek help and advocate for treatment.
At HNHB Spine and Neuro Rehab, our staff have extensive experience in treating people with strokes. We understand the impact a stroke can have in all areas of a person’s life and welcome the opportunity to work with you to develop a programme that will suit you and your unique needs.