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Stroke First Aid – What To Do When Someone is Having A Stroke

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Table of Contents

Sharon McCulloch

According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, in 2020, there were an estimated 39,500 stroke events in Australia—more than 100 every day. There were around 67,900 hospitalisations where stroke was recorded as the principal diagnosis in 2021–20. In 2021, stroke was the underlying cause of 8,500 deaths (4.9% of all deaths and 20% of CVD deaths).

What is a Stroke

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel supplying the brain experiences a sudden blockage, known as an ischemic stroke, or ruptures and causes bleeding, referred to as a hemorrhagic stroke. In both cases, these events can lead to the death of brain tissue, resulting in impairments that affect various functions, such as speech, cognition, mobility, and communication. Strokes must be considered as a medical emergency and sadly, strokes can often prove fatal.

Linked to strokes is a condition called a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which occurs when there is a temporary blockage of blood supply to the brain. TIA exhibits similar symptoms to a stroke, but they typically vanish within a short period, and brain imaging shows no evidence of damage. TIA serves as a significant indicator for the risk of a future stroke.

Risk Factors for Stroke

Anyone can have a stroke at any age. But your chance of having a stroke increases if you have certain risk factors. Some risk factors for stroke can be changed or managed, while others can’t.

Risk factors for stroke that can be changed, treated, or medically managed:

  • High blood pressure – Blood pressure of 140/90 or higher can damage blood vessels (arteries) that supply blood to the brain.
  • Heart disease – Heart disease is the second most important risk factor for stroke, and the major cause of death among survivors of stroke. Heart disease and stroke have many of the same risk factors.
  • Diabetes – People with diabetes are at greater risk for a stroke than someone without diabetes.
  • Smoking – Smoking almost doubles your risk for an ischemic stroke.
  • Birth control pills (oral contraceptives)
  • History of TIAs (transient ischemic attacks) – TIAs are often called mini-strokes. They have the same symptoms as stroke, but the symptoms don’t last. If you have had one or more TIAs, you are almost 10 times more likely to have a stroke than someone of the same age and sex who has not had a TIA.
  • High red blood cell count – A significant increase in the number of red blood cells thickens the blood and makes clots more likely. This raises the risk for stroke.
  • High blood cholesterol and lipids – High cholesterol levels can contribute to thickening or hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) caused by a buildup of plaque. Plaque is deposits of fatty substances, cholesterol, and calcium. Plaque buildup on the inside of the artery walls can decrease the amount of blood flow to the brain. A stroke occurs if the blood supply is cut off to the brain.
  • Lack of exercise
  • Obesity
  • Excessive alcohol use – More than 2 drinks per day raises your blood pressure. Binge drinking can lead to stroke.
  • Illegal drugs – IV (intravenous) drug abuse carries a high risk of stroke from blood clots (cerebral embolisms). Cocaine and other drugs have been closely linked to strokes, heart attacks, and many other cardiovascular problems.
  • Abnormal heart rhythm – Some types of heart disease can raise your risk for stroke. Having an irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation) is the most powerful and treatable heart risk factor of stroke.
  • Cardiac structural abnormalities – Damaged heart valves (valvular heart disease) can cause long-term (chronic) heart damage. Over time, this can raise your risk for stroke.

Several risk factors increase the likelihood of a stroke, including smoking, hypertension, abnormal blood lipid levels, a history of TIA, atrial fibrillation, diabetes, and other cardiovascular diseases.

Recognising a Stroke

In addition to the FAST acronym, there are other common stroke symptoms to watch for:

  • Blurred vision, dim vision, or loss of vision, especially in one eye.
  • Tingling, weakness, or numbness on one side of the body.
  • Nausea.
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control.
  • Severe headache.
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness.
  • Loss of balance or unconsciousness.

The FAST Acronym

To provide effective stroke first aid, you must be able to recognize the signs of a stroke. The quicker you identify these signs, the faster you can seek medical assistance. One helpful tool for recognizing a stroke is the FAST acronym:

F – FaceCheck the person’s face for signs of a stroke.
  • Is one side of their face numb?
  • Does their face droop on one side when they smile?

If you notice any of these signs, it could be indicative of a stroke.

A – ArmsAssess the person’s arms for signs of weakness or numbness.
  • Ask them to raise both arms. Does one arm stay lower than the other?
  • Is one arm weaker than the other?

If you observe these symptoms, it’s a potential sign of a stroke.

S – SpeechPay attention to the person’s speech.
  • Is their speech slurred or garbled?
  • Are they having difficulty forming words or sentences?

Speech abnormalities can be a strong indication of a stroke.

T – TimeTime is critical during a stroke.If you notice any of the above signs, it’s time to call emergency services immediately.

First Aid Management for Stroke

During a stroke, time is critical. Delayed action can lead to severe consequences, including long-term disability or even death. Recognizing the signs of a stroke and knowing what steps to take can save lives. If you suspect someone is having a stroke, here are the first steps to take:

1. Call Emergency Services Immediately

The first and most crucial step when you suspect a stroke is to call emergency services. Time lost is brain lost. Do not hesitate or wait to see if the symptoms improve. The sooner medical professionals can intervene, the better the chances of a positive outcome.

If you’re experiencing stroke symptoms yourself, don’t waste time; have someone else call for you if possible. Stay as calm as possible while waiting for emergency help.

2. Ensure Safety

If you’re caring for someone else who you suspect is having a stroke, it’s essential to ensure their safety:

  • Make sure they are in a safe and comfortable position. Ideally, have them lie on one side with their head slightly raised and supported to prevent choking in case they vomit.
  • Check to see if they are breathing. If they are not breathing, perform CPR immediately. If they are having difficulty breathing, loosen any constrictive clothing, such as a tie or scarf.
  • Maintain a calm and reassuring manner. Your support and calm presence can help alleviate anxiety during a frightening situation.
  • Cover the person with a blanket to keep them warm. Stroke can affect temperature regulation, and keeping them warm is essential.
  • Do not offer them anything to eat or drink. This can pose a choking hazard if their ability to swallow is impaired.
  • If the person is showing weakness in a limb, avoid moving them. Moving someone with a suspected stroke can worsen their condition or cause further injury.

How First Aid Training Can Help Save Lives

The main treatment for an ischemic stroke is a medicine called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). It breaks up the blood clots that block blood flow to your brain. A healthcare provider will inject tPA into a vein in your arm. This type of medicine must be given within 3 hours after stroke symptoms start.While it is absolutely imperative that a stroke victim receive immediate medical treatment, we must emphasise that the effectiveness of these treatments diminishes with time. So, the sooner you seek medical attention, the greater the likelihood of a positive outcome. This underscores just how critical it is to promptly recognize stroke symptoms and take immediate action.

At FirstAidPro, we offer Nationally Accredited First Aid Courses, including comprehensive training in providing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). This training isn’t just about learning the skills; it’s about knowing how to use them effectively during critical moments. When it comes to strokes, quick and appropriate action, such as CPR, can significantly increase the chances of a stroke victim not only surviving but also making a successful recovery to normal living.

Mild Stroke and Mini Stroke

These brief episodes are transient ischemic attacks (TIA), sometimes called “mini-strokes.” They still should be taken seriously, because they tend to be signs of underlying serious conditions that can lead to a full stroke, even possibly in the few days following a TIA event if not evaluated and treated for a TIA

Post-Stroke Care

When it comes to recovering from a stroke, meticulous planning and preparation are essential. Whether it’s you or a loved one leaving the hospital after a stroke, ensuring that all aspects are well taken care of is paramount.

Consider the following guidelines for effective stroke recovery:

Recognise the Signs of Another Stroke

Within the initial 3 months post-stroke, the risk of experiencing a second stroke is 15 times higher than that of the general population. Therefore, it’s imperative to familiarize yourself with the warning signs of a stroke, including facial drooping, arm weakness, slurred speech, vertigo, sudden dizziness, changes in vision, or a severe headache. Being well-educated and aware of these warning signals is critical, as it enables prompt treatment if another stroke should occur.

Comprehend Your Stroke Risk Factors and Manage Them Appropriately

While knowing the warning signs of a stroke is crucial, taking proactive measures to prevent a recurrence forms the foundation of a successful recovery and empowers you to lead a healthier life. Some stroke risk factors are beyond our control, such as genetic predisposition or age. Fortunately, many risk factors can be effectively managed. For instance, adopting a healthy diet can help improve conditions like high blood pressure and atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). This underscores the significance of having dietitians as an integral part of your rehabilitation team.

Embrace Rehabilitation

Therapy plays an indispensable role in your recovery journey. Often, spontaneous recovery occurs during the initial 3 months post-stroke, and this progress can continue throughout your recovery process. This natural healing process can be further enhanced by focusing on the affected side and engaging in exercises recommended by your therapy team. Thus, it’s essential to make the most of this “recovery window” by actively participating in your physical, occupational, and speech therapy recovery program.

By following these best practices, you can increase your chances of a successful stroke recovery and regain a higher quality of life. Remember, proactive planning and commitment to these guidelines are key to a swift and robust recover.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best first aid for a stroke at home?

The first thing you should do if you have a medical emergency or suspect a stroke is to call triple zero (000) and follow the medical advice from them.

If they are conscious:

Support head and shoulders on pillows Loosen tight clothing Maintain body temperature Wipe away secretions from their mouth Ensure the airway is clear and open.

If they are unconscious:

Place them in the recovery position.

What happens if a mini stroke goes untreated?

These brief episodes are transient ischemic attacks (TIA), sometimes called “mini-strokes.” They still should be taken seriously, because they tend to be signs of underlying serious conditions that can lead to a full stroke, even possibly in the few days following a TIA event if not evaluated and treated for a TIA.

What does a stroke feel like in your head?

In addition to the classic stroke symptoms associated with the FAST acronym, around 7-65% of people undergoing a stroke will experience some form of a headache. People describe a stroke-related headache as a very severe headache that comes on within seconds or minutes.  Oftentimes, the area affected by the headache is directly related to where the stroke occurs. For example, a blocked carotid artery can cause a headache on the forehead, while a blockage towards the back of the brain can cause a headache towards the back of the head. This ultimately means that there is not one headache location that signals a stroke, since they can occur anywhere on the head.

The content on this website offers general insights regarding health conditions and potential treatments. It is not intended as, and should not be construed as, medical advice. If you are facing a medical emergency, dial 000 immediately and follow the guidance provided.

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