If you or someone else is having a stroke, the first step is to call emergency medical services. Then you can perform first aid, such as CPR, if needed.

During a stroke, time is of the essence. If you or someone else is having a stroke, call 911 or your local emergency services immediately.

Quick treatment can reduce the risk of death or long-term disability. You may also perform first aid after you have contacted emergency services.

If you think you or someone around you may be having a stroke, follow these steps:

  • Call emergency services: If you recognize stroke symptoms, contact 911 or your local emergency services or have someone else call for you. Stay as calm as possible while waiting for emergency help.
  • Get them in a safe position: If you’re caring for someone else having a stroke, make sure they’re in a safe, comfortable position. If possible, position them lying on one side with their head slightly raised and supported in case they vomit.
  • Check to see if they’re breathing: If they’re not breathing, perform chest compressions or CPR. If they’re having difficulty breathing, loosen any constrictive clothing, such as a tie or scarf.
  • Check to see if they are bleeding: If they are bleeding from a fall, apply pressure to the wound with clean fabric.
  • Observe the person carefully for any change in condition: Be prepared to tell the emergency operator about their symptoms and when they started. Be sure to mention if the person fell or hit their head.
  • Communicate calmly: Talk in a calm, reassuring manner.
  • Prevent choking: Do not give anything to eat or drink.

Symptoms may be subtle or severe depending on the stroke’s severity. Before you can help, you need to know what to watch for. To check for warning signs of a stroke, use the FAST acronym, which stands for:

F Face drooping: This can look like facial drooping, an uneven smile, or numbness.
AArm weakness: You can ask the person to raise their arms and if the arm drops down or isn’t steady, it could be an indicator of a stroke.
SSpeech difficulty: Ask the person to repeat something. Slurred speech can indicate that the person is having a stroke.
TTime to call 911: If you or someone else is having a stroke, act quickly and call 911 or your local emergency medical services.

Other stroke symptoms can include:

Even if a person has only one or two of these symptoms or their symptoms appear mild or subtle, it’s best to get emergency medical care immediately. A delay can affect the type of treatment doctors can provide for stroke and increase the risk of disability.

According to guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA) and American Stroke Association (ASA), medical professionals can administer clot-busting drugs within 4.5 hours and mechanical clot removals up to 24 hours after the start of stroke symptoms.

Learn more about how medical professionals treat stroke.

After first aid and treatment, the stroke recovery process varies. It depends on many factors, such as how fast treatment was received or if the person has other medical conditions.

A stroke can deprive the brain of oxygen and cause brain cells to die. A longer time before treatment can result in increased disability.

The first stage of recovery is known as acute care. It takes place in a hospital. During this stage, your condition is assessed, stabilized, and treated. Many people who’ve had a stroke stay in the hospital for up to a week.

Rehabilitation is usually the next stage of stroke recovery. It may take place in the hospital or an inpatient rehabilitation center. If stroke complications aren’t severe, rehabilitation may be outpatient.

The goals of rehabilitation depend on your symptoms, but typically include:

  • strengthen motor skills
  • improve mobility
  • limit the use of the unaffected limb to encourage mobility in the affected limb
  • use range-of-motion therapy to ease muscle tension

You may also have additional therapies, depending on your symptoms. This may involve speech and language therapy.

Learn more about stroke recovery.

Prompt emergency medical care may help reduce the risk of disability following a stroke. The ASA recommends calling an ambulance rather than driving the person to the hospital, if possible, as this allows them to receive emergency care on the way to the hospital.

After contacting emergency services, you can get the person into a safe position and perform first aid, if needed, until emergency services arrive.

Getting quick treatment can increase the options health professionals have to treat stroke.