Preparing for a Stroke Emergency: What You Should Know If Someone Is At Risk

The first thing to do is learn the person's stroke risk

Here's how to help someone at risk prevent a stroke, how to tell if he's having a stroke, and what to do in case of a stroke emergency.

If he has already had a stroke or transient ischemic attack (ministroke), the greatest threat to his health is another one. According to Ralph L. Sacco, chairman of the American Stroke Association's Stroke Advisory Board, a stroke survivor's risk of having a second stroke within five years may be as high as 40 percent.

If he's never had a stroke, there's no way of knowing for sure whether he'll have one, but you can talk to his doctor to learn more about his risk.

Get help at the first sign of stroke

If you have the slightest suspicion that someone might be having a stroke, call 911. Call even if the symptoms disappear, and don't let the person talk you out of it. Tell him you understand that he's upset, but you're going to call anyway because you care about him. The most precious gift you can give someone who's having a stroke is immediate treatment.

Take steps to prepare

  • Help a person reduce his risk . If he's at risk for a stroke, join forces to help him avoid having one. Talk about what he needs to do to manage his blood pressure and control his cholesterol. If he smokes, quitting will reduce his risk.
  • Familiarize yourself with the signs of stroke .

Stroke sign #1: Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg -- especially on one side of the body

Stroke sign #2: Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding

Stroke sign #3: Sudden vision trouble in one or both eyes

Stroke sign #4: Sudden difficulty walking, loss of balance or coordination, dizziness

Stroke sign #5: Sudden severe headache with no known cause

  • Research local stroke centers and decide where he should go if he has a stroke. Keep in mind that time is of the essence. Maybe there's a renowned stroke center a few hours away, near a relative's house. If he has a stroke while visiting that relative, he should go to that center, but if he has a stroke at home, it's better for him to go to the best facility that's nearby.
  • Keep emergency information on hand. Once you've chosen a stroke center, post that information in a prominent location. If you think he's having a stroke, when you call 911 you'll be able to tell the paramedics exactly where you'd like him taken for treatment.
  • Have the person you're concerned about prepare an advance health care directive and give either you or a family member durable power of attorney . If he's unable to speak for himself, this will make it much easier for you to act in his stead.
  • If you think he's having a stroke, be ready to act fast. And, in fact, the word FAST is an acronym that reminds you what to do:

Face: Ask the person to smile. See if one side of his mouth droops.

Arms: Ask him to close his eyes and raise both arms. See if one of his arms drifts downward.

Speech: Ask him to repeat a simple sentence, such as "I went to the store today."

Test : Test all three of the above and note any symptoms.

If he has difficulty with any of these tests, call 911 right away.