Knowing These Signs of Stroke Can Save a Life

Prompt intervention saves lives

In the United States, someone has a stroke every 40 seconds. A stroke happens when a blood vessel in the brain becomes blocked or bursts, and it stems from a cardiovascular condition such as atherosclerosis, high blood pressure or atrial fibrillation.

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The sooner you recognize the signs of a stroke and get someone to the hospital, the greater the chances of reducing the risk of disability and death.

“Patient and family education about stroke symptoms can make the difference.”

Up to 28 percent of Americans would not recognize the signs of stroke so the American Heart Association, American Stroke Association and the Ad Council are working to change that through a Stroke Awareness campaign. The campaign centers on teaching people to use the acronym FAST to recognize when a stroke is happening.

BE FAST: Easy to remember, too important to forget

Look for these signs and act:

Balance — Loss of balance

Eyes — Changes in vision

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Face Drooping – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.

Arm Weakness – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

Speech Difficulty – Is the person’s speech slurred? Is he or she unable to speak or difficult to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence such as, “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?

Time to call 911 – If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 911 and get him or her to the hospital immediately.

Patient and family awareness can make the difference

Cleveland Clinic vascular surgeon Rebecca Kelso, MD, knows from first-hand experience that time is of the essence when it comes to the diagnosis and treatment of a stroke.

“In the 1990s, my grandmother woke up one day and felt different,” she says. Her grandmother was tired and couldn’t walk very well, so she and her grandfather spent the day resting on the couch.

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“Later that evening, when family members came to visit, it was very clear that my grandmother had experienced a major stroke—with paralysis of her arm, leg and face,” Dr. Kelso says. The stroke left her grandmother unable to live independently, and she was moved to a nursing home for supportive care.

Increasing awareness about the warning signs of stroke and critical response steps could lead to happier endings for more stroke victims. Dr. Kelso says, “There is much that can be done in the first hours after identifying a stroke to help improve blood flow to the brain and impact recovery.”

“Patient and family education about stroke symptoms can make the difference,” Dr. Kelso says.

Risk factors for stroke

Strokes and cardiovascular disease share many risk factors as follows:

  • Excess weight can lead to heart disease and high cholesterol, which can lead to a stroke.
  • Strokes are six times more likely to occur in people with cardiovascular disease.
  • Strokes are four to six times more likely in people with high blood pressure.
  • People with high cholesterol are at double the risk of having a stroke.
  • Heavy drinking increases the risk for stroke and cardiovascular disease.
  • Smokers have double the risk for stroke as nonsmokers.

And, atrial fibrillation, one of the most common heart rhythm problems, increases your risk of stroke by about 5 times.