According to the National Stroke Association Malaysia (NASAM), stroke is the third largest cause of death in Malaysia. It is the third killer of middle-aged people, behind cancer and heart attacks.
Despite these sombre statistics, stroke is actually treatable and preventable with prompt treatment. Possessing knowledge of how to spot the signs of stroke and what actions to take can possibly help save a life and avoid potential complications when it strikes.
What is a stroke?
A stroke occurs when blood supply to parts of our brain is reduced or interrupted. This deprives our brain tissue of the nutrients and oxygen necessary for its survival. Within minutes, the cells start to die, impeding our brain functions. To minimise the resultant impact of stroke, prompt treatment is crucial.
While some risk factors of stroke such as age and family history are non-modifiable, many are lifestyle factors we can change to lower our risk of getting a stroke. However, when it occurs, it is important for us to identify the signs early and take the necessary and right steps to seek treatment to prevent further complications.
How do I identify the symptoms of a stroke?
The type of stroke and the part of the brain affected can manifest different symptoms. An easy way to remember the common symptoms is through the acronym “BE FAST”, which also double up as a reminder that speed is key when stroke strikes.
Other symptoms can include a sudden and severe headache, vomiting and fatigue.
What should you do?
It’s a race against time when stroke strikes. Receiving prompt and immediate treatment helps to minimise the extent of brain damage stroke can cause to our loved one.
Call 999 immediately
In stroke treatment, time is crucial. Brain cells die with every passing minute. If you notice a person displaying any signs of stroke, call 999 immediately instead of transporting the affected individual to the Accident and Emergency department on your own.
Dialling 999 not only ensures the prompt transportation of the person with stroke to the hospital. This call also triggers a chain of events. Trained paramedics will be able to identify the symptoms of stroke, administer life-saving treatment en-route to the hospital, and inform the emergency department so that appropriate immediate medical attention is available upon arrival.
Take note of when the symptoms started
Some of the most effective treatment for stroke can potentially reverse or stop symptoms from progressing. However, it has to be administered within 6 hours from the start of symptoms.
With an awareness of the time the symptoms started, the most appropriate and effective treatment can be determined.
Perform CPR if necessary
It has been observed that we may fall unconscious during a stroke. If consciousness is lost, check their pulse and breathing. If there is no pulse, start performing CPR immediately.
Do not give them food or drink
Avoid giving food or drink when you suspect someone is having a stroke. A stroke can cause general muscle weakness or even paralysis. This may result in swallowing difficulty, posing a risk of choking.
Do not give them any medication
Depending on the type of stroke, different types of treatment will be required. While a blood-thinning aspirin may help with ischaemic stroke, it may be detrimental for someone with a haemorrhagic stroke.
With no visible way of distinguishing the type of stroke a person is having, it is best not to administer medication as it could further complicate matters or worsen the condition.
Caring for a loved one post-stroke
Knowing how to identify the tell-tale signs of stroke and the actions to take is just the tip of the iceberg. The next step will be to assist your loved one in their recovery post-stroke.
Stroke recovery is a gradual process that can take several months to years. Familial support can go a long way in helping your loved ones regain independence and rediscover self-confidence.