Someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds. Stroke is the leading cause of disability and the leading cause of preventable disability in the US. Nearly three in four of the approximately 800,000 strokes in the US each year are first-time strokes, and an American dies every four minutes from stroke. Knowing the signs of a stroke and what to do when you suspect someone is having a stroke is critically important.

During a Stroke

Know the Signs

In a 2005 survey, 93 percent of respondents recognized sudden numbness on one side as a sympton of stroke, but only 38% were aware of all major symptoms and knew to call 9-1-1 when someone was having a stroke.

The University of Chicago developed the three steps below to help diagnose a possible stroke:

  1. Ask the person to show you their teeth. This checks for one-sided weakness of the face.
  2. Ask the person to close her eyes and raise our arms. Stroke patients usually cannot raise both arms to the same height. This also checks for one-sided weakness.
  3. Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, such as “The sky is so blue in Nebraska.” This checks for slurring of the speech.

The faster you get help, the better the patient’s chance for a full recovery. Patients who arrive at the emergency room within three hours of their first symptoms tend to have less disability three months later than those who had delayed care.

At the first sign of a possible stroke:

Dial 9-1-1 or your local emergency rescue department. Stay calm. Give your name, telephone number, and exact location.

Look at the clock. As soon as the warning signs begin, check the clock, and if possible, write down the time. The doctors need to know when the symptoms started to make proper decisions about treatment. Seconds count. The typical patient loses 1.9 million neurons each minute in which his or her stroke is untreated.

Lie down. While waiting for the ambulance, stop all activity. Stay calm.

Do not drink or eat anything.

Do not drive. For your safety and that of others, do not drive yourself to the hospital if at all possible.

If you’re helping a stroke patient, follow the guidelines above. In addition:

Take medications with you. Put the stroke patient’s medication list and current prescriptions, including over-the-counter medications, in a sack. Send them to the hospital with the patient.

Be prepared to provide a complete list of all medical conditions, medications (if not brought with the patient), any allergies, and the name of the patient’s physician or physicians for hospital staff.

After a Stroke

A wide range of challenges may be present following a stroke, depending upon the severity. Many people do not recover quickly and spontaneously, making rehabilitation vital as soon as possible following the stroke.

Those who are paralyzed and left with severe speech difficulties, such as aphasia, can make remarkable progress with the help of rehabilitation. The various types of rehab are normally arranged by the patient’s doctor to begin either while they are still in the hospital or following discharge.

For the Survivor

Emotional changes and depression are common following stroke (if depression persists, the doctor should be consulted). Many stroke survivors try to isolate themselves due to shame. It may be helpful for them to join a support group with other stroke survivors.

For the Spouse

As the spouse of a stroke survivor, you may become the main caregiver. Being a caregiver is very demanding and often draining. It is important for you to know your limits and take care of yourself.

Having your loved one attend a support group or participate in other available programs can greatly assist you as a caregiver. The Nebraska Respite Network offers a variety of services that can help. 

For the Family

There are an estimated 54 million caregivers nationwide with families providing nearly 80 percent of the care. It is important for families to hold conferences regularly to establish each member’s role and responsibility to help the ease the burden on one person. The survivor’s family is the single most important source of support. Using encouragement and reassurance, the family helps the survivor have the will to recover and be independent. There are support groups available to caregivers and families as well as stroke survivors.