Act FAST in a brain attack


PETALING JAYA: A stroke can kill you, or if you’re fortunate (some may feel otherwise), it can leave you with various degrees of paralysis, depending on which part of the brain is affected.

A stroke is essentially a brain attack (as opposed to a heart attack), where the blood supply to an area of the brain is cut off.

This can occur in two ways – a blood vessel supplying the brain is blocked (ischaemic stroke), or the blood vessel “bursts” (haemorrhagic stroke).

According to the American National Stroke Association, for each minute a stroke goes untreated and blood flow is interrupted, a person can lose about 1.9 million neurons. 

 If the right brain is affected, the left side of the body and even face will be affected, which could lead to:

• Paralysis on the left side of the body

• Memory loss

• Vision problems

• Behavioural changes

If the stroke occurs on the left side of the brain, the right side of the body will be affected, possibly leading to:

• Paralysis on the right side of the body

• Memory loss

• Speech/language problems

• Behavioural style

If the stroke affects the brain stem (which is located at the base of the brain, and connects the “main” brain with the spinal cord), this could affect both sides of the body, and the person may be unable to speak or have any movement below the neck.

As the brain stem is responsible for the control of involuntary functions like heartbeat, breathing and blood pressure, a stroke at this location may result in death.

Location is not the only factor in stroke. The extent of brain tissue involvement is important too.

Needless to say, the more brain tissue affected, the more severe the symptoms will be.

According to the Department of Statistics Malaysia, in 2014, the number of deaths due to cerebrovascular diseases (stroke) was 7.1%, making it the third highest cause of deaths, behind ischaemic heart disease and pneumonia.

Another type of stroke is called transient ischaemic attack, or TIA.

This is sometimes referred to as a “mini-stroke”. Here, the stroke symptoms go away after a while, with no permanent damage.

A TIA is a warning of an impending, permanent stroke, so those who experience it are rather “fortunate” in the sense that if action is taken early, they can prevent an oncoming stroke.

A person who’s had one or more TIAs is almost 10 times more likely to have a stroke than someone of the same age and sex who hasn’t.

Make it FAST

Quick action is vital when you want to minimise the after-effects of a stroke. Immediate treatment can minimise complications and long-term effects, and in some instances, it can even reduce the risk of death from stroke.

FAST is an acronym that helps you quickly recognise the warning signs of a stroke. Remember FAST, as it can help you save someone’s life:

F: Face drooping – To confirm, ask the affected person to smile. The smile may appear uneven, or one side may droop. There may even be numbness on the affected side.

A: Arm weakness – Ask the person to raise both arms. Can the person lift both arms to the same height? Another sign is one arm drifting downward.

S: Speech difficulty – Listen carefully to the person. There may be slurring of speech, or you can’t understand what the person is saying. You can ask the person to repeat a sentence, and listen carefully.

T: Time to call 999. If the person has any of the above, seek help immediately. Do not delay.

Even if it’s a TIA where the symptoms go away on their own, do not delay. Seek help immediately to avoid an impending full-blown stroke.

Other signs and symptoms

FAST represents what is typically apparent during the onset of a stroke. But there are other signs and symptoms as well that you could look for.

These include:

• Any weakness or paralysis of any part of the body

• Gait disturbances

• Loss of balance and coordination

• Numbness or “pins and needles” anywhere in the body

• Vision changes, blurred vision, or trouble with eyesight in one or both eyes

• Confusion and behavioural changes

• Difficulty swallowing

• Severe headache

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