Could you tell if someone was having a stroke? Here's what you must know

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Stroke is Australia’s second biggest killer, resulting in more than 8000 deaths per year, more than 35,000 hospitalisations, and over 25,000 hospitalisations for rehabilitation care associated with stroke.

A stroke is the result of an artery supplying blood to the brain either suddenly becoming blocked, or beginning to bleed. As a result the brain begins to die, and sufferers have their can suddenly experience impairment of their speaking, thinking, movement, and communication.

While suffering a stroke, almost two million brain cells die every minute. If the stroke event continues for one hour, something in the region of 3.5 years’ worth of brain cells that would be lost in the normal course of ageing are lost.

It is absolutely paramount that a stroke is diagnosed early, and that treatment begin as soon as possible.

So how do you recognise the symptoms?

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Common signs of a stroke

The following advice is issued by the National Stroke Foundation:

A simple acronym, FAST, provides shorthand for a quick test to determine whether someone is having a stroke.

  • Face – is it drooping?
  • Arms – can they lift both arms?
  • Speech – Is it slurred or jumbled? Do they understand you?
  • Time – is critical. Call 000 right away if you see any to these signs.

Additionally, stroke sufferers could experience a sudden severe headache, and difficulty swallowing.

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What to do next, and what not to do

While waiting for the ambulance, these are the important things to that you can/shouldn’t do:

  • If the person is conscious, lay them down on their side with their head slightly raised and supported.
  • Do not give them anything to eat or drink. Loosen any restrictive clothing that could cause breathing difficulties.
  • If weakness is obvious in any limb, support it and avoid pulling on it when moving the person.
  • If they are unconscious, check their breathing and pulse and put them on their side. If they do not have a pulse or are not breathing start CPR straight away.
  • If you are unsure how to perform CPR the ambulance call taker will give instructions over the phone.

If you’d like more information about stroke at hand, the National Stroke Foundation Australia has made a smartphone app, called Think FAST, available for iPhone and Windows phone.

The future – virtual reality helps understand what a stroke feels like

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Knowledge of stroke symptoms, and the experience of what it feels like is crucial not only for patients, but also medical staff. In Canada there has been some work with virtual reality headsets to make a ’stroke simulator’, providing a visual and aural experience from the point of view of a stroke sufferer.

The simulator also offers a look at post-stroke experience, and the work done with physiotherapists, friends, family and caregivers. All of this while giving you the sense of the sufferer being trapped inside their own body, a feeling that is all too real.

Have you had an experience of being first on-hand to help a stroke sufferer? Does the information