How to Identify the Signs of a Stroke

Did you know that more than 800,000 Americans will have a stroke this year alone? Numbness, confusion, trouble seeing or walking, and severe headaches are some general signs of a stroke. In the event of a stroke, being able to identify warning signs will allow you to act quickly. As a caregiver, it’s important to know how to identify and treat someone who is having a stroke.

What is a Stroke?

To first understand how to identify a stroke, it is helpful to know more about the term itself. According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), a stroke “occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is suddenly interrupted or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, spilling blood into the spaces surrounding brain cells. Brain cells die when they no longer receive oxygen and nutrients from the blood or when there is sudden bleeding into or around the brain.” There are two forms of stroke: ischemic – blockage (i.e. a blood clot) of a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain, and hemorrhagic – bleeding into or around the brain.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) strokes are the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. There are a lot of factors that contribute to the risk of a stroke including:

  • Age
  • Ethnicity
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • And general overall health

What Are the Signs of a Stroke?

The American Heart Association (AHA) provides a simple way to remember the warning signs and what to do if you notice a stroke is happening. The AHA recommends the following acronym to help you act FAST:

  • Face Drooping (if you are not sure, ask the person to smile and watch the muscles in their face)
  • Arm Weakness (ask the person to raise their arms and watch if one drops quickly or is unable to be raised)
  • Speech Difficulty (ask the person to say a sentence to watch for slurred or difficult speech)
  • Time to call 9-1-1

As you identify these signs, mark down when they occurred. This critical information may help the emergency responders and critical care workers implement the most appropriate treatment. As you know, a stroke may be subtle and not immediately debilitating. You need to be careful of dismissing or ignoring something that seems “off” or “out of the norm.” FAST does not include every possible scenario for a stroke, but it includes the most common signs. It is possible for the symptoms to go away but stay vigilant as transient ischemic attacks (loss of blood flow or ‘mini strokes) require medical attention just the same.

The fact that one-person dies from a stroke every four minutes makes it extremely important to watch for and take seriously. Remember, early detection may prevent serious brain damage, physical impairment and possibly death. Be proactive and find ways to reduce the risk and watch for signs of a stroke in your aging loved one.