Have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes? If so, you're at an increased risk for stroke. Other risk factors include cigarette smoking, obstructive sleep apnea, and heart disease—but even healthy folks are known to suffer a stroke.
Your brain needs a constant supply of blood to function. When that blood flow is cut off by a blockage or a ruptured clot, the result is a stroke. Without blood and oxygen, brain cells begin to die within minutes. Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability, but the sooner you receive emergency medical treatment, the less your chances of brain damage and complications.
Use the helpful acronym F.A.S.T to memorize the warning signs of stroke. Being able to recognize the symptoms in yourself or someone else may save a life.
A common sign of stroke is a lack of feeling or movement in one side of the face. The best test for this symptom is to smile. Normally when you smile, the eyes squint slightly and the mouth curls up on each side. This won't happen in the case of someone who has suffered a stroke. Look at the person or if you fear you’ve experienced a stroke, in the mirror. Is one side of the face smiling and the other drooping? It’s a stroke. Call 9-1-1.
Like one side of the face, someone with a stroke may experience weakness, paralysis, or numbness in one arm. Should you be concerned it's a stroke? Try to raise both arms above your head. If one arm can't make it or starts to fall, you should be highly concerned, because it’s probably a stroke. Don’t waste time. Call 9-1-1.
A third warning sign for stroke is trouble speaking. In addition to the muscles needed for smiling, stroke can affect the mouth muscles you use to talk. A person who usually speaks clearly and legibly will all of a sudden begins slurring his or her speech or can't get words out right when having a stroke. Ask the person to repeat the sentence, “The sky is blue.” If you can't understand what the person says, it’s likely a stroke. Call 9-1-1.
Waiting to see if the symptoms go away on their own can be a deadly idea. Sometimes the symptoms may subside or come and go, but if you wait to seek medical attention, the damage will have already been done. If you or someone else is experiencing any of the signs listed above or any of the additional symptoms below, find a phone and dial 9-1-1 immediately. Every minute without treatment may mean greater brain damage. Note the time the symptoms begin and get to the nearest hospital as quickly as possible for treatment.
Besides facial and arm weakness and difficulty speaking, there are several other signs someone may be suffering a stroke. If you’re experiencing a stroke, you may suddenly have a horrible headache that is worse than any you've had before. It's not like other headaches that come on slowly or are due to tension or illness. Dizziness, vomiting, and confusion may accompany the headache.
Other people may suddenly have trouble seeing out of one or both eyes. Their vision may go blurry, completely black, or see double. And stroke victims may also suddenly have difficulty walking, stumble regularly, or lose their balance and coordination.