Signs of stroke: What you should know
Dr. Diane Wallis
Updated: March 22, 2013 11:16AM
Every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. has a stroke. Recognizing the signs of stroke can save your life or the life of someone you know: the sooner a stroke sufferer comes to the hospital, the sooner they’ll get treatment. A stroke can result in loss of motor skills and language function — the most common complications — along with difficulty swallowing, memory loss and pain.
What is stroke?
Stroke occurs when a part of the brain doesn’t receive enough blood, thus depriving the brain of oxygen. Most stroke patients suffer from ischemic stroke, which occurs when too much plaque develops on the vessel wall and blocks blood flow, or a blood clot travels through an artery to block blood flow. Less commonly, a hemorrhagic stroke occurs when the blood vessel ruptures, causing blood to leak into the brain.
Signs of stroke
An easy way to remember the sudden signs of a stroke is by the acronym FAST:
• F — Face drooping. Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.
• A — Arm weakness. Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
• S — Speech difficulty. Is speech slurred, are they unable to speak, or are they hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence such as, “The sky is blue.” Can they do it correctly?
• T — Time to call 911. If the person shows any of these symptoms, call 911 to request immediate medical treatment.
For patients who come into the emergency room within three hours of having a stroke, a physician might be able to administer the “clot-busting drug,” called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). In a more select group of patients, a doctor can administer the drug up to four and a half hours later. If patients arrive under six hours, a physician might be able to perform an angiogram, during which a catheter is fed up through an artery in the groin to administer tPA directly into the blood clot or attempt to remove the clot mechanically.
Preventing a stroke
Annual physicals with a primary care physician can help catch conditions that may lead to stroke — such as hypertension, high cholesterol and diabetes — and manage them properly if they do arise. Don’t put off your annual doctor’s visit and keep track of all the medications you are taking.
A stroke can affect people of all ages and backgrounds; Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. and the top cause of long-term disability, but it can be prevented. Take care of yourself and call 911 immediately if you or someone nearby is experiencing any of the signs of stroke.
Diane Wallis, M.D., is a cardiologist who treats patients at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital.