A stroke can happen very suddenly at any time to anyone… without much warning. Most of us know someone who has had a stroke. Many of us know numerous stroke victims. Some of these individuals have recovered fully, some have been left disabled in some way, and others have died.
The unfortunate truth is that more people have experienced – or will experience – a stroke than the general public may realize. But, as common as strokes are and as often as we hear about them, not enough people understand what a stroke is, how to identify when someone is having a stroke, or what to do in the situation. This important information can help save lives and reduce the impact of the stroke.
In very basic and non-medical terms, most strokes happen when the brain is damaged because the flow of blood has been suddenly cut off from one or more areas in the brain. The body depends upon an adequate amount of blood reaching the brain in order for the brain and nervous system to function properly. Without enough oxygen, cells in the brain begin dying very quickly and the parts of the body controlled by the damaged areas of the brain stop working as they should.
The most common symptoms of a stroke include facial weakness, arm weakness and difficulty speaking, but there are many other signs to look for that may mean someone could be having a stroke. (See our list of symptoms at right) In some cases, a person who is having a stroke may exhibit only one symptom. In other cases, a person may present a combination of symptoms. Stroke symptoms may be experienced for just a few minutes and vanish almost immediately or they may continue for hours. They may be mildly uncomfortable or they may cause extreme distress.
It isn’t all that unusual for someone to have a mild or a “mini” stroke without ever realizing it, especially if symptoms are fleeting. A mild stroke is often referred to by medical professionals as a transient ischemic attack or TIA. It can be very easy to ignore the seemingly minor symptoms of a mild stroke or chalk them up to some other cause. But, even if symptoms do not seem serious or disappear quickly, they should NOT be ignored.
The severity and outcome of a stroke depends on where the brain is damaged, how much of the brain is damaged, and how long it takes to restore blood supply to the damaged area or areas of the brain. A severe stroke can be permanently debilitating or lead to death. The longer a stroke continues without medical treatment, the more damage may be done.
Taking the right action quickly can help keep the extent of brain damage to a minimum, increase survival odds, and improve the extent of recovery that will be possible for the person following the stroke. What is the right action? Whenever a stroke might be a possibility, calling 911 is imperative. It is also vital to make sure to be specific with the 911 operator about your suspicion that someone might be having a stroke.
Fast action increases the chance for effective treatment. Some stroke treatments/medications must be administered within hours of the start of stroke symptoms. So, the sooner a stroke victim gets to the hospital, the better. The emergency medical care team responding to a 911 call is able to quickly determine if their patient is having a stroke, provide appropriate medical aid, and alert hospital staff that a stroke patient is on route to their facility. Preparations can then be made in advance and treatment can begin immediately when the patient arrives at the hospital.
Speak with your doctor about your personal risk for stroke and to learn more about this important health issue. The “BE FAST” assessment test below is a simple, straightforward method to help you recognize the most common signs of stroke and act accordingly.
B - Sudden loss of BALANCE
E - Sudden loss of vision in one or both EYES
F - FACIAL drooping or numbness
* Please do not rely solely on this article for information. It is not meant to offer medical advice. Speak with your personal physician about the dangers of stroke.
A - ARM weakness or numbness
The following are just some of the more common symptoms that may signal a stroke. Some are symptoms of other health issues as well. It is important to seek medical attention to know for sure what may be causing any questionable health concern. Do not wait.
T - TIME to call 911 if someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away.
S - Difficulty SPEAKING