Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, and a major cause of severe, life-changing disability among adults. Because most strokes are entirely preventable, much of the discussion that surrounds this serious medical problem is focused on the lifestyle modifications that help reduce stroke risk.
As vital as that may be, it’s just as critical to be able to recognize a stroke as it’s happening. That’s because, when it comes to strokes, FAST treatment is the best way to prevent death and minimize long-term health effects, including disability. Here’s what you need to know.
A stroke is a medical emergency that occurs when something interrupts or significantly limits the blood supply to part of your brain. Without oxygen and nutrients, the affected brain cells begin to die within minutes. The two main types of stroke are:
Four in five strokes are ischemic, meaning they’re triggered by a blocked or narrowed artery. A thrombotic ischemic stroke occurs when a blood clot forms in an artery that supplies your brain with oxygen-rich blood; an embolic ischemic stroke occurs when a clot that formed elsewhere moves through your bloodstream and becomes lodged in a brain artery.
A transient ischemic attack (TIA), which is also referred to as a “mini stroke,” occurs when the blood supply to part of your brain is blocked for a short amount of time. While most TIAs don’t cause significant damage, having one can increase your chances of suffering a major stroke in the future.
A stroke can also occur when a blood vessel in your brain spontaneously leaks or bursts. High blood pressure or weak areas on blood vessel walls are just two of the many possible causes of a hemorrhagic stroke.
Recognizing a stroke
When someone is having a stroke, every minute counts. Getting the right treatment as quickly as possible is not only the best way to limit the brain damage that a stroke can cause, it’s also the best way to prevent death.
The emergency stroke treatments that work best are only available within the first three hours of the onset of symptoms; this means that stroke symptoms must be recognized in the moment, then diagnosed by a professional before treatment can begin.
Following the FAST (Face, Arms, Speech, Time) guidelines can help you identify an acute stroke event as it’s happening, so you can act quickly:
Is one side of the person’s face drooping lower than the other? Does one side of their face feel numb? When they smile, is their smile asymmetrical or lopsided?
Is one of the person’s arms feeling weak or numb? When you ask them to raise both arms, does one arm stay lower or drift back down?
Do the person’s words sound slurred, unclear, or garbled? Are they unable to speak or difficult to understand? Ask them to repeat a simple sentence and listen for slurred or strange speech.
If you recognize one or more of these symptoms in someone else or even yourself, call 9-1-1 right away. Do not get in your own car and drive yourself or another person to the emergency room; lifesaving stroke treatment usually begins in the ambulance, on the way to the hospital.
While these are the main signs of a stroke in most people, it’s important to recognize that, in some people, sudden trouble walking or seeing are the most prominent symptoms. Sudden confusion or a sudden severe headache may also indicate a stroke.
Fast treatment saves lives
An astounding one in three stroke victims (and their families) misjudge the seriousness of their medical emergency and never call 9-1-1 — they either drive themselves to the hospital at some point or don’t seek treatment at all.
Remember, stroke treatment begins the moment the paramedics arrive and continues en route to the hospital, drastically increasing a patient’s odds of survival and decreasing their chances of sustaining a serious, life-long disability.
If you’d like to learn more about your stroke risk, board-certified neurologist Luay Shayya, MD, and the team at Neurology Consultants of Arizona can help. Call our Scottsdale, Arizona, office today, or click online to schedule a visit with Dr. Shayya any time.