Patient Teaching: Signs of a Stroke

Article Categories: Cardiopulmonary & Diseases and Conditions

As you go through your day, you are likely to encounter patients who could be at risk for a stroke. Just a quick question, “Has anyone taught you how to recognize the signs of a stroke?” can be a literal life-saver.

While strokes can happen at any age, even infants and young children, be especially alert for patients who have:

• Hypertension: High blood pressure is the number one risk factor!
• Heart disease, including atrial fibrillation: When small blood clots or pieces of arterial plaque can break off and get to the brain, a stroke can happen.
• High cholesterol: The waxy substance can lead to narrowing of arteries and blood flow throughout the body, even in the brain.
• Diabetes: Because it affects the entire body, including the vascular system, diabetics have an automatic risk for many complications, including stroke.

Besides these medical conditions, there are also some lifestyle risks:

• Obesity: Patients who are overweight often combine the risk factors of poor diet and inactivity, which can also increase the likelihood of a stroke.
• Smoking: Tobacco is linked with many health problems, especially heart-related.
• Alcohol: Excessive drinking can develop hypertension and elevated triglycerides.

What about patient demographics? What should you pay attention to?

• Age: The risk for strike doubles every ten years after age 55. This is actually the most important risk factor.
• Gender: Women are more likely to die from strokes, although men are more prone to having a stroke. Also, for younger women, birth control pills and pregnancy can sometimes be at risk.
• Race: African Americans, Hispanics, and Native Americans have a higher risk of stroke than Caucasians or Non-Hispanic Whites. In fact, blacks have twice the risk of a first stroke, and are more likely to die from a stroke than Caucasians.

It just takes a minute, while taking vital signs or getting a patient settled into an exam room, to ask if he or she knows the signs of a stroke. For patients at risk, it can be the very thing that saves their life in the near future.

The American Stroke Association has created a simple way for patients and their families identify the signs of a stroke and get immediate help. Think FAST!
F = Facial Droop. Does one side of the face droop? Is the smile uneven or lopsided?
A = Arm Weakness. Can the person raise both arms equally? Is there numbness on one side?
S = Slurred Speech. Ask the person to say, “The sky is blue.” Can you understand?
T = Time to call 911. For ANY of the above signs, call for immediate help!

The American Heart Association has printable materials and other resources for your practice. You can also download the free “Spot a Stroke F.A.S.T.” app for your phone or tablet. Tell your at-risk patients and their family members about the app, too.

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