Duke Medicine HealthLine
Published: Aug. 21, 2007
Updated: Apr. 6, 2010
You’re heading upstairs one morning and you drop your coffee because your hand suddenly became weak.
Or you’re having lunch with your father and he abruptly stops making sense or seems confused by what you’re saying.
What do you do?
If you’re not sure, you’re not alone. According to Duke neurologist Larry B. Goldstein, MD, up to half of Americans -- even those who face the highest risk of stroke -- are in the dark about how to recognize the onset of stroke and what to do once the symptoms begin.
“It’s very difficult for people to sort out what these symptoms may mean,” says Goldstein. His advice: Don’t try to. If a person experiences any symptoms of stroke, the response should be to seek medical attention immediately. Even symptoms that last just a few minutes and then go away should get fast attention, as they can signal that a stroke may soon occur.
Also, says Goldstein, don’t try to get to a hospital on your own. It may seem like you’ll reach help faster than if you wait for an ambulance, but paramedics can often begin the needed evaluation right away. Also, patients who arrive by ambulance can be triaged for appropriate care more quickly and effectively than those who walk in.
When a stroke begins, taking action without delay can decrease the chances of having a permanent impairment. But how do you spot a stroke at its onset? The American Stroke Association advises dialing 911 immediately if someone is experiencing any of the following:
Though stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States, most stroke victims survive. However, many survivors don’t fully recover, making stroke a leading cause of long-term disability in adults. About 4.4 million Americans live with stroke-related disabilities, and half of them are partially or totally dependent on someone else for their daily activities.