Stroke basics: Understand the symptoms, and call 911

“Dial 911 for emergencies.”

You think this is simple and obvious, right? It turns out that a recent study found that one-third of patients with stroke symptoms did not call 911 when they were having a stroke. Often, patients show up in the emergency room by having their families drive them or, even worse, by driving themselves.  Also, there are many instances that I know of personally where patients wait until the next day to call their primary care physician, especially if their symptoms have resolved.

It is important to seek emergent medical care quickly when it comes to stroke. As you have seen on this blog before, as well as on other stroke websites, the mantra of all stroke physicians is “Time is Brain.” The sooner one is assessed by medical professionals, the higher the chance that a stroke victim can get intravenous tPA, which is a clot-busting medication that can substantially improve one’s outcome after a stroke.

Calling 911 ensures that one gets the best stroke care possible. Emergency medical services knows to take patients to certified stroke centers — like OHSU’s — that have the proper tools necessary to treat stroke. In addition, having medical personnel assessing and starting treatment on a patient before he or she gets to the hospital can potentially save more brain cells. Lastly, families and patients can potentially drive dangerously when rushing to the hospital, which is an added risk.

It is also important to recognize stroke symptoms, as often they can be overlooked in family members, which can lead to delays in care. The American Stroke Association has been promoting stroke awareness during American Stroke Month in May. It promotes a F.A.S.T. checklist to recognize common symptoms:

Face Drooping — Does one side of the face droop, or is it numb?

Arm Weakness — If a person tries to raise both arms, does one drift downward?

Speech Difficulty — Is speech slurred, or hard to understand?

Time to call 911.

Other stroke symptoms: sudden numbness or weakness in a leg, sudden trouble seeing out of one or both eyes, dizziness, confused behavior and sudden severe headache with no apparent cause.

If you see anyone having a few of these symptoms at the same time — or if you are experiencing them yourself — immediately call 911 and get medical treatment. The time — and brain — you save could change the rest of your life.

Hormozd Bozorgchami, M.D.
Instructor, Oregon Stroke Center
OHSU Brain Institute