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Hypertension and Stroke Special Report

Can You Pass the Stroke Symptom Test?

Like a heart attack, a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) is an emergency that requires immediate medical attention. Getting to the hospital as soon as symptoms start is essential, because prompt diagnosis and treatment is the key to improving the outcome. Responding quickly to a TIA also is crucial since about one third of TIAs go on to become full-blown strokes. Yet many of us don’t know the symptoms of stroke – or what to do. Here’s what the research reveals.

Many Americans can't identify the major symptoms of a stroke and are unaware of the importance of calling for emergency help, according to a recent study in Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (volume 57, page 481).

Researchers analyzed data from a telephone survey of more than 71,000 Americans to determine whether they could correctly identify five sudden stroke symptoms: numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg; confusion or trouble speaking; trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance; vision problems; and unexplained, severe headache. They were also asked if chest pain was a stroke symptom and to pick a course of action for someone having a stroke.

About 44% of respondents correctly identified all five warning symptoms of a stroke. Only 16% got all five stroke symptoms right, knew that chest pain was not a symptom of stroke, and said they would call 911 if they thought a person was having a stroke.

Responding quickly to a stroke is essential to reducing your risk of disability and death. A drug called t-PA can be a lifesaver when given within three hours of the onset of an ischemic stroke, and for people with a hemorrhagic stroke, immediate treatment is necessary as well.

Listed below are the possible symptoms of a stroke or TIA as well as the appropriate actions to take.

Possible Symptoms of a Stroke or TIA:

  • sudden weakness or numbness in the face, arm, or leg on one side of the body
  • sudden loss, blurring, or dimness of vision
  • mental confusion, loss of memory, or sudden loss of consciousness
  • slurred speech, loss of speech, or problems understanding other people
  • a sudden, severe headache with no apparent cause
  • unexplained dizziness, drowsiness, or falls
  • nausea and vomiting, especially when accompanied by any of the above symptoms

Actions To Take:

  • Stay calm, but don't downplay any of the stroke symptoms or hesitate to take prompt action.
  • Call or have someone call an ambulance. (Dial 911 in most parts of the United States.)
  • While waiting for the ambulance, the person having the stroke symptoms should be made comfortable and should not eat or drink anything other than water.
  • If an ambulance cannot arrive for an extended period of time, have a family member or someone else drive the stroke patient to the hospital. Under no circumstances should the person experiencing the stroke symptoms drive.
  • Notify the stroke patient's doctor.
  • At the hospital, list any medical conditions the stroke patient has (such as high blood pressure or diabetes), any allergies (particularly those to medications), and any medications the patient is currently taking, including over-the-counter remedies, vitamins, and dietary supplements.

Posted in Hypertension and Stroke on January 5, 2010

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