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Know the Signs of a Stroke: FAST

If you have a stroke, those first few minutes can be crucial—they can mean the difference between life and death, and for survivors, the degree of recovery. That’s why recognizing the signs of a stroke and getting help immediately are critical.

Stroke: A Brain Attack

A heart attack occurs when a blockage keeps blood from going to the heart. A stroke is similar: It occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted. When that happens, the blood cannot deliver the oxygen that brain cells need, and the cells can become damaged or die. Those cells control areas of the brain such as movement and memory, so when they are damaged, you may have temporary or permanent paralysis and memory loss.

In the United States, a stroke occurs every 40 seconds, according to the National Stroke Association. That adds up to 800,000 Americans experiencing a stroke each year. And it is the leading cause of serious, long-term disability in the U.S.

Two main types of strokes occur:

  • Ischemic stroke: Most strokes are ischemic and occur when a blood clot blocks the blood vessel, cutting off blood and oxygen in the brain.
  • Hemorrhagic stroke: About 15 percent of strokes are hemorrhagic and occur when a blood vessel or artery inside the brain bursts, leaking blood into the brain tissue. Although less common, they are responsible for nearly 40 percent of stroke-related deaths.

A third type of condition — called a transient ischemic attack, or TIA — mimics stroke-like symptoms. With TIA, blood flow to the brain is briefly interrupted, and stroke symptoms may appear but then disappear within 24 hours. A TIA usually does not cause permanent damage, but is a warning sign that a stroke may occur.

Who’s At-Risk for a Stroke?

Anyone can have a stroke, but certain factors put people at a higher risk. The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute lists these as major risk factors for stroke: 

  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Smoking
  • Age and gender
  • Race and ethnicity
  • Personal or family history
  • Brain aneurysms or faulty arteries or brains (arteriovenous malformations)

What Are the Signs of a Stroke?

Signs of a stroke include a sudden weakness or paralysis, confusion, difficulty talking or understanding speech, trouble seeing, loss of balance or coordination, breathing problems, falling unconscious or a sudden or severe headache.

A simple method of remembering this is Act FAST, as outlined by the National Stroke Association:FAST acronym  Face Arm Speech Time

F: for Face. Ask the person to smile. Look to see if one side of the face droops.

A: for Arms. Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift down?

S: for Speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Do they understand you and is their speech slurred or unusual?

T: for Time. This isn’t a symptom, but a reminder that a stroke needs to be treated right away. If you observe any of these signs (it doesn’t need to be all of them), call 911. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, do not try to drive yourself to the nearest emergency room.

Treatment Options for Stroke

With strokes, time is of the essence, because the sooner you receive treatment, the better the outcome. That’s why getting treatment as quickly as possible after the first symptom occurs is important. Treatment may include monitoring your condition, giving medicines to dissolve the blood clot or performing procedures such as thrombectomies to remove clots from the blood vessel.

If you call 911 for a suspected stroke, responders may go to the nearest Emergency Stroke Center Location, like Orlando Health, which specializes in stroke treatment and recovery, and is recognized for delivering better patient outcomes after a stroke.

Strokes can attack fast. By knowing the signs of a stroke, you can respond fast too, increasing the likelihood of quickly getting the treatment needed.

Find Out Your Stroke Risk

Most strokes involve a clot that blocks blood flow to your brain (ischemic stroke). Sometimes, a weakened blood vessel breaks, causing bleeding (hemorrhagic stroke). A temporary clot can cause a “mini stroke” or TIA (transient ischemic attack). The smallest stroke can damage your brain or warn of a bigger stroke to come. It can limit your ability to think, talk or move. If you see symptoms, call 911 right away.

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