What to do when someone’s having a stroke

Dear Friend,

I shouldn’t have to tell you that a stroke is nothing to mess around with. The slightest sign of one should send you directly to the phone to call 911. Problem is, too many people shrug off that initial warning flare. I don’t know if it’s stubbornness, embarrassment, or ignorance. Regardless, not getting proper treatment–and fast–can mean the difference between life and death, or at the very least, between full and partial recovery.

The severity of a stroke will vary from person to person. But there’s one thing they all have in common-the sooner you get treatment, the better chance you have of getting blood flowing to your brain and limiting the damage.

The more you know about identifying signs of a stroke, the more likely you are to get immediate help when you see them. Here are the five most common signs:

1. One side of your body suddenly becomes numb or weak
2. You lose your vision–or it becomes dimmer–especially in just one eye
3. You have difficulty speaking or understanding what others are saying to you
4. You develop a sudden, severe headache
5. You become dizzy, lose your balance, or fall

These signs are too important to just gloss over–but I’m not about to tell you to memorize them, either. If you go to my website (www.DouglassReport.com), you can print out a card with this information to keep in your wallet.

What to do when someone’s having a stroke

The first three signs are typically taken more seriously because they’re more commonly associated with a stroke. But the last two are just as important. A sudden, severe headache is often the sign of a brain aneurysm that has ruptured. In that case, getting treatment ASAP can make the difference between a full recovery and spending months in rehab learning how to feed and clothe yourself. (That is, if you’re lucky enough to survive it.)

Many people are also likely to downplay a fall, chalking it up to a misstep–or one too many glasses of wine. But when a person is having a stroke, he can lose consciousness for as little as a second or two–barely long enough to know it happened but long enough to come face to face with the pavement.

If you experience any of these five signs, don’t tempt fate. Call an ambulance. And if you’re with someone who’s experiencing any of these signs, call an ambulance for him. While you wait, you can do a three-step test for additional confirmation of your “diagnosis.” Ask him to perform three simple tasks:

1. Smile
2. Raise both arms
3. Speak a simple sentence

These three things are important because they can indicate easy-to-diagnose signs of stroke: facial weakness, arm weakness, and speech problems.

When you call 911, tell the dispatcher that the person has likely had a stroke. This may determine which hospital they choose to take him to, and it lets them know to call ahead to have a neurosurgeon alerted.

Remember: The quicker you get treatment, the better your chances of recovery.