Know the Warning Signs of Stroke

The family gathering to celebrate Independence Day didn’t see their celebration end with the type of fireworks they had initially planned. Instead of enjoying beach-front festivities, they were gathered in the emergency department with concerns about Grandma’s health. During their cookout earlier in the day, Grandma suddenly began to have problems speaking, walking, and using her right arm. Fortunately, her family recognized the need for immediate medical attention and called 9-1-1. In minutes, the fire department arrived at the cookout and took control of the situation by immediately initiating treatment.

Grandma suffered an ischemic stroke because of the sudden blockage of a blood vessel in her brain. This type of stroke, or brain attack, is quite common and deprives the brain of blood and oxygen. Symptoms such as problems with Balance, vision (Eyes), Facial muscle weakness, Arm or leg weakness, and problems Speaking are common with this type of stroke. These findings form a series of letters (B.E.F.A.S.T.) that should prompt Timely activation of emergency services personnel to get a patient to the hospital for evaluation.

The family’s ability to recognize these signs allowed Grandma to arrive at the hospital within minutes. Prompt recognition allowed for prompt treatment. In this case, Grandma was eligible to receive a medicine that breaks up the clot causing her stroke. Shortly after this medication was given, the medical team began to see improvements. While she remained in the hospital for a few days for testing and evaluation, Grandma was able to return home to the level of independence she previously enjoyed.

Grandma’s stroke was caused by a small blood clot that formed because of an irregular heartbeat. The medication she received helped to dissolve that clot and allow her brain to recover quickly. More severe strokes require a specially trained doctor to use a small wire to remove the clots. Either way, re-establishing blood flow to the brain as quickly as possible is a key factor in helping the patient experience a positive outcome.

During their time at the hospital, the family learned a great deal about strokes. For instance, while everyone is at risk for having a stroke, some are at greater risk. If you smoke, have high blood pressure, and/or have increased cholesterol and other risk factors, your chances of having a stroke are increased. In addition, females share unique risk factors, such as pregnancy, use of hormone replacement therapy, and/or a history of migraines.

Regardless of eligibility to receive the clot-busting medication or the clot removal procedure, everyone’s recovery process is different. Some patients require extensive rehabilitation with physical, occupational, and speech therapy while others have very few complications and require only outpatient physical therapy. Unfortunately, those who suffer a stroke have an increased risk of having another stroke. This is where lifestyle changes are so important after a stroke. They make a big difference in modifying a person’s risk factors.

In this story, Grandma had a great outcome because of a few key actions. Her family recognized her stroke and dialed 9-1-1 to call for an ambulance. They also used the B.E.F.A.S.T. assessment tool to identify symptoms quickly. Remember: B-balance; E-eyes (or vision issues); F-facial drooping on one side; A-arm (or leg) weakness; S-speech difficulties; T-time is of the essence.

Fire department medical personnel arrived soon after they were called and acted as an extension of the emergency department. They performed detailed testing which allowed them to transport Grandma to the hospital most-prepared to handle her stroke emergency.

Some hospitals in the region, such as Chesapeake Regional Medical Center, have a well-trained team of doctors and nurses who focus on the care and treatment of stroke patients. Hospitals like this are ready and waiting for patients to arrive to ensure that care is provided quickly. Restarting blood flow to the brain is key for stroke patients. Hospitals that prioritize this treatment give patients the best chance for a positive recovery.

Chesapeake Regional Medical Center was recently recognized by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association for their commitment to ensuring stroke patients receive the most appropriate treatment.

Michael J. Whitehurst, RN, BSN, CCRN, SCRN, is CRMC’s  Stroke/Rapid Response Team Coordinator. For more information, visit

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