Think You’re Having a Stroke? Call 911

When it comes to stroke, time is of the essence. Each minute that passes before receiving help increases the amount of permanent damage done to the brain. That’s why knowing the warning signs of stroke and reacting quickly is so important.

Remember to act FAST

The stroke symptoms are different for everyone. Whether you experience multiple warning signs or just one, if you suspect you may be having a stroke, seek help immediately. Not sure what you should be looking for? The most common warning signs are easily recalled with the acronym FAST:

F is for Facial Drooping – This typically occurs on one side of the face. If you or a loved one’s smile suddenly seems unusually crooked or lopsided, this can be an indicator of stroke.

A is for Arm Weakness – Though it’s most common in arms, sudden weakness, numbness or loss of normal function of any appendage is cause for concern.

S is Speech Difficulty – Slurred speech or difficulty speaking are classic stroke symptoms. This may or may not be experienced in conjunction with confusion or reduced comprehension.

T is for Time to call 911 ­­– Treating stroke is a race against time. To give yourself or your loved one the best chance for survival and recovery, call 911 immediately.

Stroke is always an emergency

With medical emergencies, especially those in which you’re not in pain or bleeding, it can be tempting to have a loved one drive you to the hospital rather than call 911. But stroke is a medical emergency that requires fast action to stabilize and treat your condition.

Research conducted by the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association found that a little over half of stroke patients used emergency medical services to get to the hospital – with significant disparities between races and sexes in their use of EMS.

Women were overall more likely than men to use EMS in the event of a stroke, with 62 percent of white women being transported by EMS.

About 58 percent of black women and men used EMS.

About 57 percent of Asian women and white men used EMS.

About 55.5 percent of Hispanic women and Asian men used EMS.

The group least likely to use EMS was Hispanic men, at a little more than 52 percent.

Why does this matter? Because, while stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, African-Americans are more likely to die from stroke than other races and minorities, and in general, have more post-stroke disability than Caucasians. While correlation isn’t necessarily causation, the time between stroke symptom and treatment may be a factor.

We keep saying that time is brain, but it’s absolutely true. According to research published by the American Heart Association, “Every minute in which a large vessel ischemic stroke [the most common type of stroke] is untreated, the average patient loses 1.9 million neurons [brain cells], 13.8 billion synapses [connections between brain cells], and 12 km (7 miles) of axonal fibers [nerve fibers]. Each hour in which treatment fails to occur, the brain loses as many neurons as it does in almost 3.6 years of normal aging.”

In addition to stabilizing your condition (and getting through Bay Area traffic more quickly), when you call 911, it starts the process at the hospital of assembling the staff and securing the resources needed to help you immediately upon arrival. 

The frontline of stroke response

As a certified Primary Stroke Center, the Stroke Program at Washington Hospital is a designated receiving center for strokes in southern Alameda County. Our team includes neurosurgeons, neurologists, neurointensivists and an amazing team of nursing professionals who specialize in stroke management, working closely with emergency medical responders to ensure patients receive treatment as quickly as possible to reduce damage and complications. The team makes up the frontline in stroke care.

In the case of ischemic stroke, the most common type of stroke that is caused by a blood clot in the brain, clot-busting t-PA treatments have to be administered within three hours of symptom onset or they simply won’t work. So, even with EMS help, the window in which a patient needs to be admitted, scanned to confirm stroke location and type, and receive the doctor-suggested treatment is very limited. We call this a “Code Neuro” which lets our dedicated stroke nurses know that time is of the essence.

With at least one stroke nurse on the premises at all times, these highly skilled, experienced nurses provide the continuity of care that reduces mortality and improves outcomes. From that initial Code Neuro, our nurses facilitate the necessary scans and tests, work with doctors on treatment plans, and coordinate with patients and their families on post-stroke rehab and recovery.

While we’re obviously proud of the team we’ve assembled within our Stroke Program, receiving stroke care quickly, wherever that may be, is the difference between life and death, recovery and disability. If you or a loved one, or the person standing next to you, are experiencing any of the signs of stroke, we encourage you to act FAST. If you’re interested in learning about what you can do to reduce your risk of stroke or our life-saving neuro-interventional radiology therapies, read more from our Stoke Program colleagues on Bay Area Healthier Together.