Your Health A-Z

How to react when someone has a stroke

When someone has a stroke, it’s crucial to act quickly – both as a bystander on the scene and as a medical professional. The Mediclinic Stroke Project has streamlined prioritized care for stroke patients to make it more efficient.

Stephen Walker, an actuary and ordained minister, was just 44 when he suffered a stroke last year. Thanks to swift intervention, he made a full recovery. As Dr Melanie Stander, Emergency Medicine Manager at Mediclinic Southern Africa explains, “A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is blocked or severely reduced – it is a medical emergency.” The brain gets the oxygen and nutrients it needs in order to function through the blood. So, when that blood supply is cut off, it’s serious. “Deprived of oxygen and nutrients, brain cells begin to die within minutes, so prompt treatment is crucial to minimise brain damage and potential complications,” Dr Stander says.

Because brain cells begin to die so quickly, it’s vital to act fast when someone has a stroke. “Every minute counts,” says Dr Stander. “Your immediate action can help prevent brain damage and long-term disability.” She advises calling ER24 (084 124) as trained contact centre staff are able to provide telephonic support and assistance while the ambulance is on its way.

Stephen was at home with his wife, Carmen, when his stroke occurred. She recognised the symptoms, gave him a Disprin, and immediately called for an ambulance to the nearest hospital – Mediclinic Panorama. Stephen’s physician later credited her actions for contributing to his rapid and complete recovery. “Early recognition of the signs and symptoms of a stroke, coupled with quick access to care at a hospital are the most important aspects to ensure the best possible outcome for the patient,” says Dr Stander.

Fortunately for Stephen, by the time he arrived at the hospital, his symptoms had passed. This is very unusual for someone who has had a stroke. “A miracle happened,” recalls Carmen. “He just snapped out of the paralysis he was in.”

However, even if a stroke patient’s symptoms have cleared up, they still need medical care, warns Dr Stander. Stephen was admitted to hospital and tests confirmed that he had indeed experienced a stroke.

When time is the enemy, there’s no room for hesitation or uncertainty – which is why Mediclinic has implemented a world-class standardised protocol. In the five years since its inception, it has resulted in a significant improvement in stroke care across all Mediclinic hospitals in South Africa and Namibia. “The development of Mediclinic’s system of stroke care ensures that every patient who enters our hospitals as a potential stroke patient is managed in exactly the same way, based on international, evidence-based guidelines to achieve the best outcome possible,” says Dr Stander. This includes the initial acute treatment, as well as overall stroke management and prevention.

Every member of the stroke team understands the role they play and what they need to do in order to optimise the patient’s chances of recovery. This includes the emergency services team, who recognise the signs of stroke and the need for speedy action, as well as the emergency centre nurses and doctors at the hospital, who activate the stroke care pathway to ensure no time is wasted. The radiology team gets the necessary brain imaging done as quickly as possible, while specialists such as physicians and neurologists play a role in managing the patient once they’ve been admitted to hospital. Allied healthcare professionals, such as speech and hearing therapists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists, provide valuable rehab, while nursing staff ensure the patient is comfortable during their stay.

A stroke can come on suddenly, without the patient knowing they were even at risk. In Stephen’s case, it appears to have been the result of an undiagnosed heart condition, for which he underwent surgery. That’s why it’s so important to recognise the symptoms. Dr Stander recommends remembering the acronym FAST:

F – face drooping: One side of the face droops or is numb. Smile looks uneven.

A – arm weakness: One arm feels weak or numb. Asked to raise both arms with their eyes closed, the person’s one arm will drift downwards.

S – speech difficulty. Speech will sound slurred or words will be difficult to understand. The person will struggle to repeat simple phrases.

T – time to call ER24. If the person has any of these symptoms – even if they go away, as they did in Stephen’s case – call an ambulance and get them to hospital. Take note of the time the symptoms first appeared.

Other signs of a stroke or TIA (minor stroke) may include:

  • Confusion
  • Difficulty understanding
  • Dizziness, trouble walking or loss of balance and coordination
  • Numbness or weakness on one side of the body
  • Trouble with vision in one or both eyes
  • Sudden and severe headache

One year on from his stroke, Stephen appears to have suffered no lasting effects – and that’s thanks to his wife’s presence of mind, fast response from medical professionals, and the efficiency of the Mediclinic Stroke Project.

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.