Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States – behind cardiovascular disease and cancer. Annually, 150,000 deaths are attributed to strokes and every four minutes someone dies from a stroke. However, from 1994 to 2004, the number of American deaths attributed to stroke declined by 20 percent. This was primarily due to early recognition of symptoms and rapid management.
Warning signs and symptoms of stroke
Men and women often display the same five common warning signs when they are having an acute stroke. Although the most common warning sign is sudden numbness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body, it’s not the only revealing factor.
Other common warning signs may include sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding speech, sudden trouble with walking, dizziness and loss of balance or coordination. Slightly less common are these two warning signs: sudden trouble seeing – either blurred or loss of vision – in one or both eyes and severe headache with no obvious explanation.
Rapid stroke assessment
Minimizing the delay between an individual having a stroke and receiving treatment for that stroke greatly increases survival rates and an individual’s chance of returning to a normal lifestyle. It also decreases the incidence of complications.
By conducting a rapid assessment, a skill taught in advanced cardiac life support (ACLS) training, you could help minimize this delay. The Cincinnati Pre-Hospital Stroke Scale helps individuals certified in ACLS or another form of life support determine if signs of a stroke are present and activate the emergency response system. The scale follows the acronym of “FAST”:
- Facial droop – One side of face does not move as well as the other.
- Arm drift – One arm does not move or drifts downward when held extended.
- Speech – Patient slurs words, uses the wrong word, or cannot speak at all.
- Time to call 911 – Presence of one of the above is associated with a high risk of stroke (72 percent), and if all three are present the risk is 85 percent.
Stroke is the primary cause of long-term disability in the U.S. More than one million American adults have stroke-related functional difficulties and an estimated 5.5 million Americans are stroke survivors. But with stroke assessments like FAST, intervention from first responders and individuals certified in ACLS, mortality rates can be minimized and lives can be saved.
If you’re unsure of the specific certification you need, your employer can help you determine which course is right for you. Healthcare professionals may earn continuing education credits for all eligible courses.
Health Education Solutions offers certification and recertification for advanced cardiac life support (ACLS), with a section dedicated to acute stroke assessment and rescue, as well as online stroke certification courses.
The information included in this article is based on the 2005 guidelines for CPR, first aid and advanced cardiovascular care. Read more about how the 2010 guidelines impact ACLS training online.