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First Aid and Emergencies

Stroke

When to Call a Health Professional

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel (artery) supplying blood to the brain bursts or becomes blocked by a blood clot. Within minutes, the nerve cells in that area of the brain are damaged and die. As a result, the part of the body controlled by those cells cannot function properly.

A person having symptoms of a stroke needs to seek care immediately. If medical treatment is sought as soon as stroke symptoms are noticed, fewer brain cells may be permanently damaged by the stroke.

The effects of a stroke may range from mild to severe and may be temporary or permanent. A stroke can affect vision, speech, behaviour, thought processes, and the ability to move parts of the body. Sometimes it can cause a coma or death. The effects of a stroke depend on:

One or more transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) often occur before a person has a stroke. TIAs are often called mini strokes because their symptoms are similar to those of a stroke. However, unlike stroke symptoms, TIA symptoms disappear within minutes (usually within 10 to 20 minutes) to 24 hours. A TIA can occur months before a stroke occurs. The first TIA needs to be treated as an emergency because it is a warning signal that a stroke may soon occur.

When to Call a Health Professional

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Call 911 or emergency services immediately if you have any of the following symptoms of stroke:

  • Any new weakness, numbness, or paralysis in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.

  • Blurred or decreased vision in one or both eyes that does not clear with blinking.

  • Newly developed difficulty speaking or understanding simple statements.

  • Sudden, unexplainable, and intense headache that is different from any headache you have had before.

  • Severe dizziness, loss of balance, or loss of coordination, especially if another warning sign is present at the same time.

If a symptom was definitely there and then went away after a few minutes, call your doctor immediately. Symptoms that go away in a few minutes may be caused by a TIA. A TIA is a strong sign that a major stroke may soon occur.

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