See Stroke Symptoms? Think FAST

As one person I know put it, “When it rains, it pours.” That’s certainly what it felt like recently when we had two medical emergencies in our family, almost back to back. One of those emergencies is almost over, with dad recuperating well at home after the incident I wrote about last week.

The other, well, not so much.

My youngest brother had a stroke. Two strokes. Coupled with the one he had two years ago, that makes three.

This is a life changer not only for him, but for the entire family. He will need intensive, hands-on care for his physical and emotional needs for the rest of his life.

I’ll get into that in future columns, but for this one I want to tell you a couple of basic things about stroke.

For one, it is the third leading cause of death in Hawaii and in the United States. It’s also a leading cause of serious, long-term disability, like my brother’s.

A stroke is an injury to the brain, in which oxygen-rich blood is blocked from a portion of it. Oxygen feeds the cells, which die without it.

There are two types of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic.

According to the state Department of Health, “An ischemic stroke occurs if an artery that supplies oxygenrich blood to the brain becomes blocked. Blood clots often cause the blockages that lead to ischemic strokes.

“A hemorrhagic stroke occurs if an artery in the brain leaks blood or ruptures (breaks open). The pressure from the leaked blood damages brain cells. High blood pressure and aneurysms are examples of conditions that can cause hemorrhagic strokes. Aneurysms are balloon-like bulges in an artery that can stretch and burst.”

If you’re a woman who thinks stroke, like heart disease, is more common in men, think again. In actuality, more women than men have strokes every year.

The encouraging thing about strokes is, if a person gets treatment fast enough, a lot of the damage can be reduced.

The scary thing about strokes is that many people get help too late. That’s because they and the people around them may not recognize stroke signs.

American Stroke Association says learn to recognize the symptoms:

• Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body

• Sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding speech

• Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

• Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination

• Sudden severe headache with no known cause

American Stroke Association has an easier way to remember the sudden signs of a stroke. Think FAST:

F — Face Drooping: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven?

A — Arm Weakness: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S — Speech Difficulty: Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?

T— Time to call 9-1-1: If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get the person to the hospital immediately. Check the time so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared.

Unfortunately, for my brother, the damage to his brain is substantial. Maybe because he was still recovering from his stroke of two years ago, no one knew what was going on until it was too late — and he couldn’t tell us. It’s going to be a long, tough road from here.

But it’s not too late for you and your family. Just remember, think FAST and call 9-1-1 immediately!