I have written about this topic before, but it’s all I can think about today. When I conduct onboard CPR, AED and first aid classes, we always review the signs and symptoms of a stroke. It’s important to recognize those signs so you can help someone having a stroke.
My father just had a stroke last weekend. Fortunately, it looks like he is going to make a full recovery.
When reading this column today, please ask yourself if you would know what to do if someone you loved were having a stroke, heart attack or other medical emergency. Could you help them? Could you recognize the signs of a stroke? Do you know how to treat a stroke victim? What would you do if a crew mate began to slur his words, appeared confused or not walking well?
A stroke is a life-threatening medical emergency that can cause paralysis, coma and death. It is the brain’s version of a heart attack. A stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel, interrupting blood flow to an area of the brain (ischemic stroke) or an artery bursts and blood leaks into brain tissue (hemorrhagic stroke).
Think of a stroke as a plumbing problem at home or onboard. Either your pipes are blocked with rust (plaque) or the pipe is leaking.
When either of these occurs, brain cells begin to die and brain damage occurs. Where the damage to the brain occurs and how much of the brain is damaged will determine which symptoms the person will display.
Here are some typical symptoms that you may observe:
Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
It should be noted that women may experience symptoms that are different from men. Those may include sudden face and limb pain, sudden hiccups, sudden nausea, sudden general weakness, sudden chest pain, sudden shortness of breath, and sudden palpitations.
If you think someone may be having a stroke, act F.A.S.T. and do this simple test:
F — Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A — Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S — Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
T — Time: If you observe any of these signs, get medical attention immediately.
Though it is not part of the test, note the time when the symptoms first began. There is only about a three-hour window for a clot-busting medication to be given at the hospital. It is very important that the stroke victim get to a hospital as quickly as possible.
A TIA, or transient ischemic attack, is called a “warning stroke” or “mini-stroke”. This type of stroke produces stroke-like symptoms but generally has no lasting damage. Recognizing and treating TIAs may reduce the risk of a major stroke. Often TIA symptoms are the same as those of a stroke, only temporary. The short duration of these symptoms and lack of permanent brain injury is the main difference between TIA and stroke.
The best way to help someone having a stroke is to recognize that they are indeed having a medical emergency and getting them to a hospital as quickly as possible. Stay with the victim, place them in a position of comfort, and monitor their breathing and consciousness.
To learn more about stroke warning signs and other medical emergencies, take a CPR, AED and first aid class. Ideally, everyone should take a refresher class at least every two years. Often classes can be conducted at your location, on your boat, or at your business.
Shipboard classes are helpful because they allow the crew to develop plans, review first aid supplies, and talk about medical emergencies as they relate to their surroundings, crew, passengers and the various ports of call.
The American Heart Association has a good 60-second video that everyone reading this should watch. And send the link to a friend. It may help someone save a life. Visit http://strokeassociation.org, click on the FAST box on the right side, then scroll down to the FAST Body Language PSA box.
Keith Murray, a former firefighter EMT, owns The CPR School, a first-aid training company. He provides onboard training for yacht captains and crew and sells and services AEDs. Contact him at 877-6-AED-CPR, 877-623-3277 or www.TheCPRSchool.com. Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.