First aid kit: Suspected stroke

Reader's Digest Editors 29 February 2020

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off or reduced because of a ruptured blood vessel or a clot in one of the blood vessels that supplies the brain. The sooner a casualty receives hospital treatment, the better the chances of recovery.

Damage to the brain caused by a stroke affects bodily functions. This can be most obvious in facial expressions, arm movement and speech. If you notice any one of these symptoms, call for emergency help immediately:

  • Facial weakness—noticeable on one side
  • Speech problems—an inability to speak clearly
  • Arm weakness—noticeable on one side
  • Sudden dizziness or complete collapse
  • Weakness or even loss of movement down one or sometimes both sides of the body
  • Sudden severe headache, without previous head injury or other cause
  • Sudden blurred vision or loss of sight
  • Sudden confusion and difficulty understanding
  • A stroke that results from a burst blood vessel may be accompanied by signs of serious head injury


Do the "FAST" test

A quick test to help check for the most obvious signs of a stroke, FAST requires an assessment of three specific symptoms. If the casualty fails any one of these tests, call for emergency help:

F: Check their face

Look at the casualty. Do you notice any facial weakness? Ask them to smile. If they have had a stroke, they may only be able to smile on one side; the other side of their face may droop.

A: Check their arms

Ask the casualty if they can lift both of their arms. If they have had a stroke, they may only be able to lift one arm, on the same side of the body that they are able to smile.

S: Check their speech

Talk to the casualty. Can they understand what you say and can they speak clearly? If they have had a stroke, their speech may be impaired and they may not understand you.

T: Time to call for emergency help

If the casualty fails any one of these tests, suspect a stroke and call for emergency help immediately. Reassure the casualty. Check and make a note of their level of consciousness, breathing and pulse. Re-check these regularly until help arrives.


WARNING: If the casualty becomes unconscious, open the airway and check for breathing. Be prepared to begin CPR).

Do not give the casualty anything to eat or drink as she could choke and/or the object or fluid can enter the lungs, which leads to further complications. About 50 per cent of stroke casualties have difficulty swallowing (known as dysphagia) afterwards.


What next?

brain showing sign of stroke

Diagnosis will be confirmed in the hospital with brain scans and blood tests. A stroke caused by a blood clot will be treated with drugs that break up the clot, to limit the extent of the brain damage, and minimise the risk of further strokes.

All stroke patients are given a swallow test in the hospital and will only be allowed to drink and eat normally when they can swallow properly.

After a stroke, the dead brain cells will not recover, but the cells around the injured area may start functioning as any swelling goes down. Most recovery happens in the first few months but, depending on the area affected, people can continue to recover for several years.


Read more: First aid kit: Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)

Read more: 6 Teas that could improve your health

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