Time lost is brain lost.
Chances are you’ve heard this phrase before. The popular saying emphasizes the importance of timely care in the event of a stroke to preserve brain function. But, before you can seek out care, you have to be able to recognize a stroke’s telltale symptoms. Would you be able to recognize them in yourself or a loved one?
“Most people know how dangerous and debilitating a stroke can be, but not as many people would be able to quickly identify it if it was happening to them or someone around them,” says Michelle J. Smith, MD, chief of neurosurgery at Main Line Health. “Familiarizing yourself with the symptoms of a stroke can help save a life.”
Below, Dr. Smith explains what stroke symptoms you should be able to recognize.
Headaches that accompany a stroke are often described as “thunderclap” headaches because they are sudden and severe. In some cases, they can also be accompanied by a brief lack of consciousness.
Changes in vision
A number of vision changes can signal a stroke, including difficulty seeing in one or both of your eyes, a brief loss of vision, blurry or darkened vision or seeing double. These changes are caused by blocked blood vessels in the retina or brain.
“One of the hallmark signs of a stroke is difficulty speaking, like slurring your words, inability to get words out, or having trouble understanding someone else when they speak,” says Dr. Smith.
If you suspect someone is having a stroke, ask them to repeat a basic phrase to determine whether or not their speech is affected.
Lack of coordination
Everyone can trip over their own feet sometimes, but a stroke causes a unique lack of coordination. Strokes can cause dizziness and vertigo, a loss of balance or stumbling, even if you’re walking slowly and deliberately.
People who have suffered a stroke often describe the feeling of weakness or numbness in their arms, legs or face. This sensation can occur on one or both sides of the body, and there’s an easy way to test for it.
“Raise both of your hands in front of your chest at the same time. If you can only hold up one arm and are having difficulty lifting the other or if it starts to fall, you might be having a stroke. You can also try smiling. If one side of your face droops while the other lifts, this can also be a sign of a stroke,” says Dr. Smith.
Remembering symptoms F.A.S.T.
Reading these symptoms is one thing, but remembering them isn’t always easy. Fortunately, there’s an easy trick to help you remember the symptoms of stroke: F.A.S.T.
“F.A.S.T. stands for Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty and Time to call 911,” explains Dr. Smith. “It’s a very simple way to remember the symptoms of a stroke and the importance of acting quickly.”
If you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms, call 911 for immediate medical attention.
Timely treatment options
Approximately 795,000 Americans die every year as a result of strokes, and timely treatment has the ability to help save lives and preserve brain function. The majority of these are ischemic strokes, which are caused by a blood clot blocking blood flow to the brain.
Traditionally, there are two treatment options for acute ischemic strokes. The first is an intravenous drug called alteplase, or tPA. Delivered through an IV in the arm, tPA works to dissolve blood clot and improve blood flow.
Unfortunately, the drug’s effectiveness also relies on size of the blood clot and the immediate recognition of a stroke.
“tPA is considered a first line of defense against stroke but, in order for it to be effective, the clot cannot be too large and it has to be administered within three to 4.5 hours,” explains Dr. Smith. “For patients who don’t recognize stroke symptoms right away or whose blood clot is too large, tPA alone is unlikely to help treat their stroke.”
For larger blood clots and patients who visit the hospital several hours after the onset of stroke symptoms, another option is mechanical thrombectomy, a treatment option offered at Bryn Mawr Hospital, part of Main Line Health.
Thrombectomy is a minimally invasive, endovascular procedure during which physicians thread a catheter through a vessel in the groin up to a blocked vessel in the patient’s brain to clear it.
Until recently, thrombectomy was only considered effective until up to six hours after the onset of stroke symptoms. But, after new research and guidelines from the American Stroke Association, certain patients are now eligible to undergo thrombectomy up to 24 hours after their symptoms begin.
These new guidelines will undoubtedly save many patients’ lives, says Dr. Smith.
“There are many reasons why people may not get timely stroke treatment—some patients suffer a stroke in their sleep, while others may not recognize the symptoms. This increased treatment time will allow us to save lives and improve the quality of many more.”
Still, while new thrombectomy guidelines will improve treatment options for patients across the country, it doesn’t mean you should delay if you notice any of the stroke symptoms listed here.
“Despite these new guidelines, it’s still critical to seek medical attention as soon as you notice stroke symptoms. Remember, time is brain,” says Dr. Smith.
The thrombectomy is beginning to transform stroke care, but the treatment isn’t an option at all in many regions. Bryn Mawr Hospital and Dr. Smith are proud to be able to offer mechanical thrombectomy as a stroke treatment option for our community. Visit our website to learn more about stroke treatment at Main Line Health.