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Knowing These Symptoms of Stroke Could Save Your Life

Danielle Dent-Breen's picture
Recognize Signs of Stroke

The medical term for a stroke is a Cerebral Vascular Accident (CVA). Strokes are the fifth most common cause of death in the United States, and a leading cause of disability for those who survive.

A stroke happens when a blood vessel that carries nutrients and oxygen to he brain is either blocked or ruptures. When that happens, time is critical. The longer parts of the brain are deprived of oxygen and nutrients, the more severe the damage as brain cells begin to die. Recognizing these common signs and symptoms of stroke could save your life, or the life of someone you love.


How common is stroke?

Nearly 800,000 people will have a stroke every year in the United States alone. Stroke will kill approximately 130,000 Americans each year—that’s one in every 20 deaths. Women are more likely to have a stroke than men, although both sexes are affected. Although most common in older people, it can affect all ages--anyone, at any time. Approximately 6.4 per 100,000 children aged 0 to 15 years will suffer a stroke this year.

FAST for stroke symptoms:
The American Stroke Association encourages the public to memorize the acronym FAST to recognize the symptoms of stroke and seek treatment immediately. If you think someone you love is having a stroke, use the following checklist:

F—Face Drooping: Is one side of the face seeming to droop, or is it feeling numb? Does the person’s smile appear uneven or lopsided?

A—Arm Weakness: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm not go as high, or drift downward?

S—Speech Difficulty: Is the person’s speech slurred or garbled? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, or answer simple questions such as their name, location, birthday, etc. Are they able to correctly repeat the words or answer the questions, and is their speech easily understood?

T—Time to call 911. If someone is showing any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and tell the operator that you suspect a stroke. Time is crucially important, and getting the person to the hospital right away is key. Note the time when the symptoms first appeared, as this information is crucial in making care decisions at the hospital.

Other symptoms of stroke:

Sometimes these other symptoms will appear, either in conjunction with FAST signs, or on their own:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of arm, face, or leg, especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech.
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
  • Sudden severe dizziness
  • Sudden behavioral changes
  • Difficulty with swallowing food and saliva
  • Involuntary eye movements
  • Difficulty with vision; seeing only half of a written word or image.
  • Sudden memory loss.

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If someone shows any of these symptoms, immediately call 9-1-1.

Who’s at risk of stroke?

While stroke can happen to anyone at any time, there are certain risk factors that increase the likelihood of an individual having a stroke: uncontrolled high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, obesity, physical inactivity, pre-existing heart conditions, and increasing age. African-Americans are at a much higher risk of dying from stroke than those of other ethnicities.

When stroke occurs in younger individuals (less than 50 years old), less common risk factors to be considered include illicit drugs, such as cocaine or amphetamines, ruptured aneurysms, and inherited (genetic) predispositions to abnormal blood clotting.

Don’t delay. Get treatment immediately.

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. Know that it is 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, even if they are not exhibiting all of the symptoms of stroke. According to the American Heart Association, you don’t have to exhibit all of the warning signs to be having a stroke.

Minimize your risk of stroke:

You can take steps to minimize your risk factors for having a stroke. Eat more veggies, beans, and nuts. Eliminate most or all animal food sources from your diet. A Mediterranean vegan diet has been proven to be the healthiest diet for cardiovascular health. Limit your intake of sodium, fats, sugars, and refined grains. Increase exercise. Quit tobacco use. Drink alcohol only in moderation. Take 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.