Should I give aspirin to someone having a stroke?
Aspirin is a drug often mentioned in the first aid treatment for a heart attack. Giving Aspirin can save someone’s life if they are having a heart attack, but what about a stroke? Should you give aspirin to someone with a suspected stroke?
The simple answer is no! Aspirin should not be given by a first aider to a patient suspected of having a stroke. Doing so could worsen the situation and cause serious harm to the patient.
Let’s look at this in more detail. Broadly, there are two main types of stroke:
1. Ischemic stroke: this is similar to a heart attack and occurs when a clot blocks an artery in the brain causing ischemia and infarction of brain tissue (death of cells due to lack of oxygen)
2. Hemorrhagic stroke: this is rarer, but occurs due to a burst blood vessel in the brain resulting in bleeding
Aspirin works by making the blood less ‘sticky’. It is great for breaking down clots, however, could worsen any bleeding into the brain. Aspirin is recommended for the first aid treatment of a heart attack because it works quickly to break down the clot in the heart.
When someone has a stroke you don’t know which type of stroke they are having! There is no way of knowing if the stroke is ischemic (clot) or hemorrhagic (bleeding). Therefore we don’t know if aspirin will help or cause harm. Administering aspirin to a patient having a hemorrhagic stroke would cause serious harm.
The only way to find out the type of stroke is a brain scan performed in hospital. Therefore the best first aid treatment for someone with a suspected stroke is to call for emergency medical help as soon as possible.
Remember, “time is brain” when it comes to a stroke. The sooner the patient receives medical help, the greater the chance of saving vital brain cells. You can make a real difference as a first aider by recognizing the warning signs of a stroke and calling for help promptly.
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