It is the most urgent emergency, if you’ll excuse the repetition. In spite of the stroke traditionally being given less attention than myocardial infarction, the number of victims is similar. When the patient comes to the emergency room protocol has to be followed. Every minute counts.
A stroke occurs when blood does not reach some part of the brain, either because there is a blocked artery or due to a thrombus or clot which is preventing it. Every minute that passes, the chances of saving the patient with a decent quality of life dwindle. Beyond three hours, the risks of drugs may outweigh the benefits. It is therefore very important that we learn to recognize the 4 most obvious symptoms.
1. Sudden loss of sensation or strength in the face, arm and/or leg on one side of the body. If the blood fails to reach the brain paralysis usually occurs on one side of the body which also causes difficulties to move in a coordinated manner. They will also not be able to smile evenly, they will make a crooked grin on one side, and the risk increases if they cannot lift their arm on the same side.
2. Sudden slurred speech, difficulty to express themselves and be understood. The clearest symptom is that it is hard to think clearly and articulate a meaningful sentence as the brain area dedicated to speech is impaired. To make sure, ask them simple questions (e.g. What is your full name? Or, which street do you live on?) And if they cannot speak or only with difficulty, call the emergency services.
3. Sudden loss of partial or total vision in one or both eyes. The victim sees double or feels that they are losing vision due to a blockage in the brain vessels leading from the brain to the retina. If they stop seeing from one eye temporarily, it could be an emergency.
4. Sudden headache of unusual intensity and without apparent cause. If the headache is accompanied by nausea, vomiting or drowsiness, and loss of sense of direction or intense vertigo and disorientation, it could be a sign of stroke.
Remember that when a stroke is suspected, notify the emergency services (061/112).
Increasingly effective treatments and a hopeful future
Fortunately, more and more people know the symptoms of cardiovascular diseases (in Spanish) such as a stroke and take care to avoid it. Even so, sometimes they happen. The good news is that research has made great strides and treatments are now more effective and less invasive than twenty years ago. A recent discovery claims uterine stem cells are capable of regenerating the damaged tissues (in Spanish).
Diagnoses are also more reliable; some hospitals, away from large cities, have a videoconferencing system (in Spanish) that allows the on duty neurologist to review the symptoms and decide whether or not to move the victim to the centre.
Besides medical treatment, there are new methods of rehabilitation, which are showing good results regarding the quick recovery of motor and cognitive abilities. Among them there are innovative techniques such as the use of video games and virtual reality or 1music therapy.
Sources and more information:
La ciencia de la salud (Planeta)
observatoriodelictus.com (in Spanish)
We remind you that World Stroke Day (in Spanish) is on October the 29th.