How to Recognize the Warning Signs of a Stroke

by | May 17, 2019

According to the National Stroke Association®, a stroke is a “brain attack” that can happen at any time and to anyone. It occurs when blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off, depriving the affected brain cells of oxygen, which can lead to muscle and/or memory control issues. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S., yet 80 percent of strokes can be prevented.

The key to successfully surviving a stroke is to act quickly when you notice symptoms, which could include (but are not limited to) weakness, numbness, vision problems, speech problems and/or difficulty thinking. “Most of the time, strokes occur suddenly,” says Dr. Alexander Grunsfeld, a neurology specialist with Sentara Norfolk General Hospital. “So, you’re walking along on your merry way and suddenly you notice that your arm doesn’t work, you can’t walk properly, your vision has changed or your speech is slurred. If symptoms like these come on suddenly, that’s a very concerning issue.”

In some cases, the individual may not even notice the symptoms. This is why it is vitally important that everyone know the warning signs. If you see someone having a problem and they seem oblivious to it, you should jump into action.

Dr. Alexander Grunsfeld

According to Dr. Grunsfeld, the first thing you should do is to call for help. “The first course of action is to get on the phone or have someone else get on the phone for you and call 911. There is nothing more important to do than to activate the emergency system,” he says. “The reason is, you are limited by the time you have to get that blockage open to get the blood flowing to your brain. Technically, the procedure can be done at any time, but the chance of having permanent brain damage is directly related to how quickly you do that.”

Since the symptoms of a stroke are generally not painful, people often believe they can just wait it out and things will improve on their own. Dr. Grunsfeld firmly recommends that if you’re having sudden problems, you need immediate attention. He even cautions people from calling their primary physician for advice first. He suggests that you can do that after you contact 911, but that time is of the essence. Contacting your primary health provider takes precious moments away from getting immediate assistance.

Why 911? “You don’t want to head out on your own, even if you have someone else to drive you, because you might not know which hospital to go to,” he says. “Not all hospitals are the same when it comes to stroke treatments. Emergency Medical Services knows which hospitals to go to, and they can start emergency procedures if something happens along the way—like if you have breathing problems or something like that.”

For example, Sentara Norfolk General Hospital was recently designated a Comprehensive Stroke Center, which means they offer the highest level of compliance for treatment of serious stroke events. There are only six stroke centers in the Commonwealth of Virginia and approximately 200 across the country that hold this top designation.

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