Working as an emergency medical responder in an area with a high susceptibility to strokes, I very quickly learned what to watch for to identify a stroke, as well as several easy-to-use tests. These tests are simple, but are effective enough to be in the standard arsenal used by ambulance crews all over the country.
Things to watch for that may indicate a stroke is a drooping of the face. This frequently presents itself as one eyelid appearing slightly closed, and the corner of the mouth on the same side pointing down. It’s not always severe looking, and not all cases present this sign, but it is one of the more frequent and easily detectable signs to watch for.
Another easily detectable sign is slurred speech. This is caused by the muscles in the mouth not responding as usual to the persons inputs, and often makes them sound overly tired, like they just woke-up, or like they are intoxicated.
If someone is showing signs of a stroke, it’s important not to rush up to them and demand that they do these tests. Instead, calmly explain that they have you worried, probably for nothing, and you’d be really appreciative if they’d let you reassure yourself that they’re okay. You don’t want to frighten the person, and especially with loved ones the opportunity for them to reassure you is something they can’t pass up.
The easiest test is to have them grab your hands and squeeze. The way I like to do this one is by holding my hands out with my fingers pointed towards each other, and palms inward. Have them hold your hands over your index finger. When they’re squeezing, the pressure from the hands should be relatively equal. If one hand is squeezing while the other isn’t squeezing, encourage them to squeeze tighter with both hands. If little or no pressure increases on one side, that can be a sign of a stroke.
If that test indicates their being a possibility of a stroke, another test you can do is have them hold their hands out in front of them at the same level. This shouldn’t be done for an extended period of time, just a few seconds should do. If they can keep their hands at the same level, that is an encouraging sign.
What to do if you Think a Stroke is Happening
Strokes, when treated early, can often lead to a full recovery. However, time is of the essence when one is detected to ensure the best possible outcome. Call 911 and request an ambulance, explaining that you believe that the person is having a stroke. Be prepared to explain what all you’ve seen, the persons age, height, weight, and detailed instructions for how to get to where you are at.
Also, be prepared to give a step-by-step reiteration of everything you saw and did when the medics arrive, they will want to know as well and it’s not always relayed completely to them. If the person you suspect of having a stroke puts up a fight with you calling 911, be nice to them and explain that you just want to make sure that they’re alright. Make sure you also tell them that if you’re wrong, they won’t have to bother with going to the hospital or getting poked or prodded, but that you called because you care. Unlike with a heart attack, though, denial isn’t necessarily a sign of a stroke, so often people are more cooperative.
For more information:
American Stroke Association
National Stroke Association
National Institute for Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Center for Disease Control and Prevention