Stroke is the 5th leading cause of death in the United States, ranked behind diseases of the heart, cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, and unintentional injuries/accident. Stroke, also called “brain attack”, occurs when blood flow to the brain is disrupted, which is caused either by a blood clot blockage to one of the blood vessels in the brain (ischemic stroke), or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, spilling blood into surrounding tissues (hemorrhagic stroke).
A stroke is an emergency situation, and it’s important to know the signs of a stroke and get help quickly. Treatment is most effective when started right away. With each minute that passes, the effectiveness of treatment is reduced.
Who can experience a stroke?
Anyone can be a victim, but certain people are more likely to have a stroke. These include:
- Older adults
- Heart disease
- People with type 2 diabetes
- People with high blood pressure or high cholesterol
- Cigarette smokers
- People who drink too much alcohol
- Individuals with a history of stroke
What are the symptoms of a stroke?
These are the five most common symptoms of stroke:
- Sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden, severe headaches with no known cause (for hemorrhagic stroke)
The key word in each of the warning signs is sudden. The sudden occurrence of any of these symptoms could possibly indicate a stroke and should prompt the individual to seek immediate medical attention.
How long should you wait before getting help?
You should think F.A.S.T. and call 911 immediately. F.A.S.T. stands for:
F – Face drooping. One side of the face is drooping or numb. If a person smiles, the smile is uneven.
A – Arm weakness. One arm is weak or numb. When the person lifts both arms at the same time, one arm may drift downward.
S – Speech difficulty. You may see slurred speech or difficulty speaking. The person can’t repeat a simple sentence correctly when asked.
T – Time to call 911. If someone shows any of these symptoms, call 911 right away. Call even if the symptom goes away. Make note of the time the symptoms first appeared.
Even if you’re not experiencing all of the symptoms, you could be having a stroke. It’s also important to note the time of the first symptom. This information is important and can affect treatment decision.
Common stroke symptoms not covered by FAST include visual changes, dizziness/loss of balance, isolated leg weakness, and severe headache. Any of these symptoms could be due to stroke.
Click here to learn more about stroke and prevention.
Click here to learn more about Touro’s Certified Primary Stroke Center.
Dr. Sheryl Martin-Schild, MD, PhD, is a New Orleans native and has spent the majority of her training and career in New Orleans. Prior to joining Touro, Dr. Martin-Schild served as an Associate Professor of Neurology and Director of the Stroke Program at Tulane University School of Medicine for eight years where she developed and award winning comprehensive stroke center. She currently also serves as the Stroke Medical Director for the New Orleans East Hospital. Dr. Martin-Schild enjoys mentoring medical students and residents in healthcare outcomes research in acute stroke. Her number one priority is her patients and making sure they receive the best care during and after their hospital stay. Dr. Martin-Schild is the State Medical Director for Stroke of the Louisiana Emergency Response Network (LERN) and enjoys traveling to facilities throughout Louisiana, educating healthcare providers and the public on stroke risk factors, prevention, and acute treatment.