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What to Do and Not Do When Someone is Having a Stroke

| Date Posted: 4/28/2022

PINEHURST, N.C. – When a stroke happens, every second counts. If you are with someone you suspect is having a stroke, what you do can make the difference between life or death and can limit future disability. That’s why it’s important to know how to identify a stroke and to be prepared for what you should do (or not do) if you think someone is having a stroke.


Melanie Blacker, M.D., a neurohospitalist at FirstHealth of the Carolinas in, said quick action is crucial anytime someone has a stroke.


“If sudden symptoms of stroke occur, it is crucial that the patient or bystanders call 911 to seek immediate medical attention,” Blacker said. “The faster a stroke is diagnosed and treated, the higher the probability that the patient will qualify for treatment and have a better outcome.”


Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States. About 795,000 strokes occur each year in America - 610,000 of those being new and about 185,000 being recurrent. Despite the staggering statistics, as many as 80% of strokes may be preventable. 


Signs of a Stroke


The first thing you need to know is how to determine if someone may be having a stroke. Stroke symptoms come on very suddenly and are often characterized by weakness, numbness, trouble talking or loss of vision. Think of the phrase BE FAST when it comes to identifying stroke symptoms:


  • B – BALANCE: Is there a sudden loss of balance or difficulty walking?
  • E – EYES: Is there sudden blurred or double vision, or loss of vision in one or both eyes?
  • F – FACE: Ask the person to smile. Is one side drooping?
  • A – ARM: Ask the person to raise both arms. Is one arm drifting downward?
  • S – SPEECH: Ask the person to say something. Does what they say make sense or sound strange?
  • T – TIME: If you observe these symptoms, call 911 immediately.


What to Do If You Think Someone Is Having a Stroke


If you suspect someone is having a stroke, call 911 right away. Tell the 911 dispatcher that you think someone is having a stroke and where you are located so they can get to you as fast as possible.


Note the time that you first notice symptoms. Even more importantly, note the last time the person was seen in their normal state. If someone awakens from sleep with stroke symptoms, the time they were last seen in a normal state may be long before the time symptoms were first noticed. This information is important because it can help health professionals make the most informed decision about treatments. A clot-busting medication called tPA (tissue plasminogen activator) may stop debilitating symptoms from developing but only if it’s given in time (within 4 ½ hours of symptom onset). There are also surgical treatments that may be done but they must be performed within a specific timeframe.


Stay with the person until emergency help arrives. Although most stroke patients don’t require it, perform CPR if the person becomes unconscious and they are not breathing and don’t have a pulse. If you don’t know how to do CPR, ask the 911 dispatcher to walk you through what to do while you wait for the ambulance. Once a patient is admitted to a FirstHealth hospital, a team of professionals begins addressing the symptoms.


“Our multidisciplinary team works together to evaluate the patient and determine the best course of action,” Blacker said. “Once admitted there are many questions to answer, including ‘Why did the stroke happen? How do we help the patient recover from this stroke? How do we prevent another stroke?’”


What Not to Do If You Suspect a Stroke


It may not be immediately apparent that someone is having a stroke but if you notice any of the symptoms listed above, don’t delay in getting medical help even if the person otherwise seems okay. Here are things you shouldn’t do:


  • Don’t let the person talk you out of calling 911. Time is the most important factor affecting whether a stroke causes lasting and debilitating problems.
  • A person having a stroke may suddenly feel very sleepy but don’t let them go to sleep. Keep them up and get them to a hospital where they can be evaluated and get treatment quickly.
  • Don’t give anyone who may be having a stroke medication, especially aspirin. If the stroke is caused by a ruptured blood vessel (20% are), this can make things worse.
  • Don’t let the person eat or drink anything. Having a stroke may affect a person’s ability to swallow.
  • Don’t drive the person to the hospital yourself unless absolutely necessary. Calling 911 is the best course of action because emergency responders can begin treatment on the way if needed.


It can be very scary to witness someone having a stroke but knowing how to spot the signs and what to do or not do can help you save the person’s life.


FirstHealth is dedicated to the evaluation, treatment, and prevention of ischemic strokes, hemorrhagic strokes, and transient ischemic attacks. Through an interdisciplinary team approach, FirstHealth works toward determining the etiology and correct emergency treatment, as well as follow-up care to achieve the best clinical outcomes.


FirstHealth is devoted to providing evidence-based quality stroke patient care to its local population of retirement communities and our state’s distinct “Stroke Belt” population.

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