Recognize the signs of stroke – and know what to do!

By Carmen Costantino
June 27, 2013

When working with stroke survivors, it’s not uncommon for me to hear, “I didn’t even know I was having a stroke” until it was too late.

I don’t know about you, but given the physical, emotional and cognitive impact of stroke, prevention is pretty high up on my list.

Although I’m not a medical expert in stroke, the way I see it is the two biggest areas of prevention are: knowing the risk factors of stroke AND knowing the signs of stroke. The latter can literally save someone’s life or your life and will be the focus of today’s column.

Stroke is a medical emergency. Many people wait to seek medical attention despite some critical signs. It’s likely because the signs of stroke can also be confused with other symptoms we may experience, such as headaches, dizziness, some muscle weakness, etc. The Heart and Stroke Foundation has some great information on recognizing the signs of stroke including the five warning signs of stroke.

One of the questions asked at the Stroke Recovery Education Day was, “I get headaches fairly regularly and I haven’t had a stroke yet, so how do I know if I’m at risk?” The stroke nurse replied, “You’ll know because the headache associated with a stroke is like no other headache you’ve ever had.” The key point being that the symptoms presenting need to be something out of the ordinary. For example, complete loss of vision in one eye temporarily versus the “usual little floaters I get when standing up too quickly” would be a warning sign.

Some more typical signs of stroke include facial weakness, meaning an individual would have a lopsided smile, not be able to smile or their face seemed to fall to one side. Muscle weakness such as not being able to hold both arms up and keep them there is another sign as well as slurred speech or the inability to say a sentence.

Recognizing and responding immediately to the signs of stroke are your best chance at improving survival and recovery. A stroke nurse from Nanaimo General Regional Hospital gave sage advice at the recent Stroke Recovery Education Day:

“If you recognize any of the signs of stroke, call 911 or your local emergency number and tell the responder your loved one is having a stroke or simply say, STROKE. Don’t go lie down to sleep it off. Don’t call the medical office and make an appointment for the following day. Don’t take an ibuprofen and go to work. Get immediate medical attention. Assume it is a stroke until a medical professional proves otherwise.”

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Planning. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.

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