It’s your daughter’s 13th birthday and you couldn’t be more excited. Your family and friends are coming over to celebrate, but as you’re preparing the food something starts to happen. You get a terrible headache that seems to have come out of nowhere and your arm feels weak. You’re not sure what’s going on, however these stroke signs are pretty clear.
Stroke affects nearly 800,000 people each year and is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States behind:
- Heart Disease
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
It is a type of cardiovascular disease that affects the arteries leading to and inside your brain. You’ll have a stroke if a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrients to your brain is either blocked (ischemic) or ruptures (hemorrhagic). When that happens, part of your brain cannot get the blood (and oxygen) it needs, so it starts to die.
To raise awareness and emphasize the importance of decreasing your risk, May is “National Stroke Awareness Month.” Knowing the symptoms of a stroke will prepare you in an emergency. It’s important to be able to recognize stroke signs because when someone has a stroke,time is of the essence. The longer it takes to get a stroke victim the care he or she needs, the more brain damage will be done. So, let’s look at stroke signs and what you should do if you spot them.
Stroke Signs: Think F.A.S.T.
If you’re wondering if someone is suffering a stroke, just think F.A.S.T. The first letter in each of the words make for an easy way to remember the typical stroke signs: Face, Arm, Speech and Time. It’s a quick, easy way to determine whether or not a stroke is occuring. Let’s take a closer look at these stroke signs and what they mean.
The first thing you want to look at if you think someone is having a stroke is their face. Ask the person to smile. Look to see if one side of their face is drooping, or if the smile is lopsided.
The victim may also experience things like:
- Uneven smile
- Vision disturbance
Facial paralysis occurs during a stroke when nerves in the brain that control the muscles in the face are damaged.
You should also ask the person to raise their arms. If one arm drifts downward, that’s a sign of a stroke. The person may also complain of other things like:
- Difficulty walking
The numbness may spread throughout one side of the body. That means their legs may be affected, too. They may have trouble walking and experience dizziness or a loss of balance.
Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. For example, you could have them say, “The mouse ran up the clock.” Listen for stroke signs like:
- Inappropriate words
Don’t waste any time. If you observe any of these stroke signs, call 911 immediately. “Time is brain” is the mantra doctors use because brain cells die within minutes. In fact, to save time doctors are now using telestroke technology to save time when treating stroke victims. A live-stream camera enables specialists to remotely assess stroke patients and direct emergency room doctors in the critical moments following a stroke.
Additional Stroke Sign: Headache
Another sign of stroke is a severe headache that comes on quickly, and without warning. As many as 60% of stroke victims experience a headache. It may be accompanied by dizziness or vomiting.
Additional Stroke Sign: TIA
Prior to a stroke, many people experience a TIA (transient ischemic attack). This is a "mini-stroke" or "warning stroke." TIAs can occur days, weeks or even months before a major stroke. TIAs occur when a blood clot temporarily clogs an artery, and part of the brain doesn't get the blood it needs. The warning signs are the same as for stroke; but they occur and disappear relatively quickly, usually in less than five minutes.
A recent survey by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association found 35% of American adults experienced a symptom consistent with a warning or "mini" stroke, but did not seek help. Research also shows women are more likely than men to have a stroke—especially if they’re diabetic.
Unlike a stroke, when a TIA occurs, the blood clot resolves itself and there's no permanent injury. When a stroke occurs and part of your brain dies from lack of blood flow, the part of the body it controls is affected. Strokes can cause lifelong damage like:
- Affect language and vision
- Cause walking difficulty
- Limit use of arms
Depending on the severity of the stroke and how long blood flow to the brain is interrupted, a stroke can cause temporary or permanent disability. But remembering four letters (F.A.S.T) and three numbers (911) could be the key to saving a life. The sooner you recognize the signs and get help, the better the chance for recovery.
If you think you or someone you love is experiencing stroke symptoms, get to your nearest emergency room. If you’d like to learn more about stroke, or some of the signs and symptoms of cardiovascular disease, download our free guide: “The Heart Disease Facts That Can Change Your Life.”