Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and almost 800,000 Americans suffer a stroke each year. In some cases, if the stroke is small, the effects can be minimal and may be able to be corrected with time and physical therapy. In others, the effects of a stroke are devastating, rendering adults incapable of speech, motility and motor coordination. Often, swift action on the part of caretakers or those who are near by can significantly minimize the effects of a stroke.
Recognizing the Signs of a Stroke Can Greatly Improve the Chances of Survival and Recovery
Recognizing the signs of a stroke – in yourself and/or others – can ensure you do what’s necessary and get immediate medical attention for the victim, thereby preventing worse-case-scenario brain damage.
What is a stroke?
A stroke occurs in one of two ways:
- Ischemic stroke. This is the most common, comprising 87% of all strokes. It happens when a fatty deposit develops in a blood vessel in the brain or a blood clot becomes lodged in a blood vessel in the brain, stopping the blood supply. Risk factors for ischemic strokes include high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
- Hemorrhagic stroke. Hemorrhagic strokes are only responsible for 13% of strokes. They occur when a weakened blood vessel ruptures and allows blood to seep into surrounding brain tissue, slowly increasing the pressure on the brain.
What are the signs of a stroke?
Because early treatment is critical in stopping the detrimental effects of a stroke in their tracks, the CDC, the American Heart Association and the National Stroke Association are promoting the acronym, FAST, as an easy way to remember the signs and symptoms of a stroke:
F – Face. Strokes are often first noticed in the face. Brain impairment will occur on the opposite side of the brain (a stroke in the right side of the brain will cause the majority of the physical impairment in the left side of the body, and visa versa). Ask the person to smile and you will notice drooping or seeming paralysis on one side of their face.
A – Arms. Ask the person to raise their arms above their head. A stroke victim may not be able to lift one arm, won’t be able to raise it as high or the arm may slowly drift back down.
S – Speech. Have the person repeat a simple phrase back to you. Their words may sound slurred, garbled, or completely unintelligible.
T – Time. Time is of the essence in stopping and treating the stroke, in order to minimize the damage. Call 9-1-1 IMMEDIATELY so the stroke victim can receive medical attention as soon as possible. Stroke patients who make it to an emergency room within three hours or less of their stroke have lesser degrees of disability three months after their stroke than those who have to wait longer for help.
Other signs and symptoms of a stroke include:
- Sudden weakness or numbness in an arm, leg or the face.
- Sudden confusion or difficulty understanding.
- Sudden difficulty seeing out of one or both eyes.
- Sudden or intense headache with no known cause.
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness or poor coordination.
Strokes can happen at any age, however, more than 60% of all strokes occur in adults 65 years old and older. The most common risk factors include ethnicity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes, smoking and drinking.
Eating well, exercising and eliminating unhealthy lifestyle habits are the best things you can do to prevent the risk of a stroke.