Most People Don't Know the Warning Signs of Stroke
Northwestern Memorial Hospital May 30, 2014
“A stroke occurs when a blocked blood vessel or artery interrupts blood flow to a particular part of the brain,” said Richard Bernstein, MD, director of the Northwestern Medicine Stroke Program and Telestroke and professor in the Ken and Ruth Davee Department of Neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. “Depending on the severity of a stroke and where in the brain it occurred, physical, cognitive and emotional functions may be impacted.”
Sometimes called “brain attacks,” strokes leave more than two thirds of survivors with lasting disability. With rehabilitation and specialist stroke survivors and their families are given hope and support through this life altering event. While some stroke risk factors can be reduced or controlled with preventive lifestyle choices, others are inherited.
“Making healthy decisions can dramatically lower a person’s risk of having a stroke,” said Clyde Yancy, MD, associate director of Northwestern’s Bluhm Cardiovascular Institute and chief of the division of cardiology at Northwestern Memorial and the Feinberg School. “While not every stroke risk is controllable an overall healthy lifestyle that emphasizes weight management through regular exercise and a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains while avoiding high sodium and high-fat foods is important for overall health. Controlling blood pressure cannot be overemphasized as a way to reduce the likelihood of a stroke. Not smoking and limiting your drinking will also improve your overall health and decrease your likelihood of having a stroke.”
People with preexisting medical conditions or have family members that had a stroke are also have an increased risk of stroke. Cardiovascular conditions including atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat) and poor circulation because of narrowed arteries heighten stroke risk. Neurological conditions including aneurysms and vascular malformations can cause bleeding in the brain, which is often the cause of stroke in young individuals. Proper treatment for these conditions plays an important role in risk reduction and prevention.
When a stroke occurs, rapid medical attention is crucial. When treatment is received promptly, a person has a far greater chance of surviving the stroke and more likely to have less lasting damage.
Immediate medical care should be sought if one or more of the following warning signs are observed: sudden numbness or weakness 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; or sudden, severe headache with no known cause.
To remember the signs of stroke, the National Stroke Association recommends using the acronym FAST:
- Face – Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
- Arms – Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
- Speech – Ask the person to speak. Does the person have slurred speech or trouble speaking?
- Time – If you observe any of the above signs, call 9-1-1.