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Learn to Recognize the Signs of a Stroke

Why it’s important

Acting fast can make a big difference for someone who having a stroke. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke emphasizes that getting emergency help within an hour can prevent long-term disability or death. You may be reluctant to call 911 if you aren’t sure whether someone is having a stroke, but people who get treatment sooner have a major advantage.

What is a stroke?
A stroke, also known as a brain attack, is when blood flow to the brain stops. The brain cells in the area begin to die. A stroke can affect the entire body.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke found that people who were treated with a blood clot-dissolving drug within three hours of symptoms had at least a 30 percent greater chance of recovering without major disability. Some strokes may also require surgical treatment.

Learn about stroke treatments »

The ability to recognize the signs and symptoms of a stroke can mean the difference between life and death. Read on to learn what they are.

Act ‘FAST’

Stroke symptoms are unique because they come on suddenly, without warning. The National Stroke Association suggests using the term “FAST” to help you recognize common stroke symptoms.

FASTSign
F for faceIf you notice a droop or uneven smile on a person’s face, this is a warning sign.
A for armsArm numbness or weakness can be a warning sign. You can ask the person to raise their arms if you are unsure. It’s a warning sign if the arm drops down or isn’t steady.
S for speech difficultyAsk the person to repeat something. Slurred speech can indicate that the person is having a stroke.
T for timeAct fast if someone is experiencing stroke symptoms.

Additional symptoms may include:

  • vision troubles, in one or both eyes
  • numbness in limbs, most likely on one side
  • overall fatigue
  • trouble walking

Call 911 if you feel or see these signs happening to someone.

Stroke symptoms in women

Women can have unique symptoms.

These symptoms can also happen suddenly, and include:

  • fainting
  • weakness
  • shortness of breath
  • confusion or unresponsiveness
  • sudden behavioral change
  • irritation
  • hallucination
  • nausea or vomiting
  • pain
  • seizures
  • hiccups

What to note about warning signs

Don’t wait

What if you notice that someone is having just one of the warning signs for stroke?

Maybe their face is drooping, but they can still walk and talk fine, and there’s no weakness in their arms or legs. But it’s important to act fast if there is any chance you’re seeing the warning signs of a stroke. Speedy treatment can improve chances for full recovery.

It’s still important to call 911 or get the person to a hospital right away. According to the American Heart Association, you don’t have to exhibit all of the warning signs to be having a stroke.

After you call

After you call 911, check to see what time you first noticed the warning signs. The emergency crew can use this information to help determine the most helpful type of treatment. Certain types of medicine need to be administered within three hours of stroke symptoms to help prevent disability or death.

So remember to think FAST, act quickly, and get emergency help if you notice any stroke warning signs.

What’s it like after a stroke?

There are two main forms of stroke. Ischemic stroke is blockage in the artery. A hemorrhagic stroke is due to a blood vessel rupture. You can also have a mini stroke (transient ischemic attack), which is a temporary blockage. Mini strokes don’t cause permanent damage but they do increase your risk for stroke.

People who recover from stroke may experience:

  • weakness and paralysis
  • spasticity
  • changes in senses
  • memory, attention, or perception problems
  • depression
  • fatigue
  • vision problems
  • behavior changes

When should you start stroke recovery? »

Your doctor can recommend treatment for these symptoms. Some alternative treatments like acupuncture and yoga may help with concerns like muscle weakness and depression. It’s important to follow through with your treatment after a stroke. Your risk for another stroke increases after having one.

Preparation and prevention

Preparation

You can prepare for stroke if you know you’re at risk for one. These steps include:

  • educating family and friends about “FAST”
  • wearing medical identification jewelry for medical staff
  • keeping updated medical history on hand
  • having emergency contacts listed on your phone
  • keeping a copy of your medications with you
  • teaching children how to call for help

If one is available, knowing the address of the hospital in your area with a designated stroke center is helpful.

Prevention

Having a stroke increases your risk for another one. The best treatment for a stroke is prevention.

You can take steps to minimize your risk factors for having a stroke by:

  • eating more veggies, beans, and nuts
  • eating more seafood instead of red meat, poultry, and eggs
  • limiting intake of sodium, fats, sugars, and refined grains
  • increasing exercise
  • limiting or quitting tobacco use
  • drinking alcohol in moderation
  • taking prescribed medications for conditions, such as high blood pressure, as directed

Can diabetes increase your risk for stroke? »

Talk to your doctor if you have a health condition or other medical factors that increase your risk. They’ll be able to work with you to manage risk factors.

Read This Next

Symptoms of Stroke in Women
What Are the Warning Signs of Stroke?
Eye Stroke: Symptoms, Causes, and More
What Does a Stroke Feel Like? Warning Signs and More
Brain Stem Stroke
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