It’s a sobering fact about our nation: Heart disease is the leading cause of death for Americans, according to the Center for Disease Control. Nearly three-quarters of a million Americans have a heart attack every year—one every 43 seconds. Strokes are even more common—800,000 or more annually, with a death from stroke occurring every four minutes, all year long. The bottom line is that your first aid training and your emergency plans had better take these into account: combined, they’re one of the most likely medical emergencies you’ll face.
As with everything, getting prepared begins with getting informed. Learning the signs and symptoms of a heart attack or a stroke can be done from the comfort of your own home via the magic of the internet. Take some time to do so, and make sure that every member of your household does the same. After you know the signs and symptoms by heart, you’ll need to learn what to do when confronted with them.
For strokes, the American Red Cross recommends that you think F.A.S.T.
- Face: Ask the person to smile—does one side of their face droop?
- Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
- Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence (such as, “The sky is blue.”) Is their speech slurred? Can they repeat the sentence correctly?
- Time: Try to determine when the signs of a stroke began. Call 911 immediately. Report the time of onset to EMS personnel.
There’s a lot of disinformation floating around the internet when it comes to strokes. You’ll occasionally run into borderline insane suggestions—pricking a hole in the patient’s earlobes with a need and squeezing it till it bleeds to regulate blood pressure. There are less obvious myths about strokes floating around as well, so take a minute to read up on them. This isn’t a moment to trust some random bit of meme floating around social media. You need real medical information in order to be of help to the afflicted.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep on saying it: everyone needs to know CPR for both adults and children. If someone is having a heart attack, you’ll need to know what to do—and CPR is a huge, potentially life saving part of that. The Red Cross likely has a class near you, so sign up for it and get the rest of your family to do likewise. This isn’t the kind of thing you can learn by yourself online; you’ll need to get real training from a real professional. You may want to look into a full first aid course as well—you never know what sort of emergency or disaster might come your way.
For either heart attack or stroke, immediate first aid is important, but you’ll need to get the patient to a hospital as quickly as possible. Once you’ve established what’s happening, call 911 or the local equivalent. Don’t try to go it alone unless you have no other choice.
And finally, give some thought to your own lifestyle. The right diet and exercise plan can help prevent you from becoming a victim—thus preventing an emergency before it starts. The old saying is true: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.