Why it’s important

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

Acting fast can make a big difference for someone who’s having a stroke. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) emphasizes that getting emergency help within an hour can prevent long-term disability or death.

You may be reluctant to call emergency services if you aren’t sure whether someone’s having a stroke, but people who get treatment sooner have a major advantage.

People who are treated with a blood clot-dissolving drug within 4.5 hours of symptoms have a greater chance of recovering without major disability, according to 2018 guidelines from the American Heart Association (AHA) and American Stroke Association (ASA).

Some strokes may also require surgical treatment.

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.

What it means to “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

FAST Sign
F for face If you notice a droop or uneven smile on a person’s face, this is a warning sign.
A for arms Arm numbness or weakness can be a warning sign. You can ask the person to raise their arms if you’re unsure. It’s a warning sign if the arm drops down or isn’t steady.
S for speech difficulty Ask the person to repeat something. Slurred speech can indicate that the person is having a stroke.
T for time If someone is experiencing stroke symptoms, it’s time to act fast.

 

Additional symptoms of stroke may include:

  • Vision troubles, in one or both eyes
  • Numbness in limbs, most likely on one side
  • Overall fatigue
  • Trouble walking

If you feel these signs yourself, or see them affecting someone else, call 911 or your local emergency services. 

Symptoms of stroke in women

Women can have unique symptoms.

These symptoms can also happen suddenly, and include:

  • Fainting
  • General weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Confusion or unresponsiveness
  • Sudden behavioral change
  • Irritation
  • Hallucination
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain
  • Seizures
  • Hiccups

Don’t wait to call for help

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. In a situation like this, it’s still important to act fast if there’s any chance you’re seeing the warning signs of a stroke.

Speedy treatment can improve chances for full recovery.

Call your local emergency services or get the person to a hospital right away. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), you don’t have to exhibit all of the warning signs to be having a stroke.

After you call emergency services

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 3 to 4.5 hours of stroke symptoms to help prevent disability or death.

According to the AHA and ASA guidelines, people who are experiencing stroke symptoms have a 24-hour window to receive treatment with mechanical clot removal. This treatment is also known as a mechanical thrombectomy.

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 three types of stroke:

  • An ischemic stroke is a blockage in the artery.
  • A hemorrhagic stroke is caused by a blood vessel rupture.
  • A ministroke, or transient ischemic attack (TIA), is a temporary blockage in the artery. Ministrokes don’t cause permanent damage but they do increase your risk for stroke.

People who recover from stroke may experience these effects:

  • Weakness and paralysis
  • Spasticity
  • Changes in senses
  • Memory, attention, or perception problems
  • Depression
  • Fatigue
  • Vision problems
  • Behavior changes

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

Prepare for stroke

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 your updated medical history on hand
  • Having emergency contacts listed on your phone
  • Keeping a copy of your medications with you
  • Teaching your children how to call for help

Knowing the address of the hospital in your area that has a designated stroke center, if one with a center is available, is helpful.

Preventing stroke

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 vegetables, beans, and nuts
  • Eating more seafood instead of red meat and poultry
  • 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

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.