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How to Recognize the Warning Signs of Stroke

There are nearly 7 million stroke survivors in the United States. When you know the warning signs and symptoms, you can help those numbers rise.

A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is cut off causing a neurological event. There are two different types of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic. A hemorrhagic stroke is caused by a burst brain aneurysm or blood vessel and involves blood spilling into or around the brain and creating swelling and pressure. Ischemic strokes, which represent 85 percent of strokes, occur when a blood clot blocks blood flow to the brain. High blood pressure is a major risk factor for ischemic strokes. Much like for heart disease, physical activity, healthy eating and not smoking can all help lower risk for stroke.

Strokes of both kinds can deprive brain cells of oxygen and lead to permanent loss of speech, movement or memory. However, when someone calls 9-1-1 immediately, treatment may be available to minimize the effects.

The healthcare community uses an easy and simple acronym to remember the signs of stroke: F.A.S.T, which stands for Face Drooping, Arm Weakness, Speech Difficulty and Time to Call.

Explore the infographic below to help you recognize stroke symptoms in everyday life.

stroke warning signs infographic 


F: Face Drooping. Check to see if one side of the person’s face is drooping and ask if it feels numb. Then, ask him or her to smile and note if the smile is uneven.
A: Arm Weakness. Ask if one of the person’s arms feels numb, then ask him or her to raise both arms to see if one arm drifts downward.
S: Speech Difficulty. Is he or she hard to understand?
T: Time to call 9-1-1. If someone is showing any of these warning signs, call 9-1-1 and make note of the time the first symptoms appeared.

More than F.A.S.T.

The F.A.S.T. signs represent the basics of stroke recognition. Familiarizing yourself with additional warning signs can help you recognize when someone near you may need help before it’s obvious.

Additional stroke symptoms include sudden:

  • Numbness in the face, arm, or leg
  • Confusion
  • Trouble understanding speech
  • Trouble seeing
  • Trouble walking
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of balance or coordination
  • Severe headache

If someone near you is experiencing any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately.

If you or a loved one has recently experienced a stroke, you could benefit from speaking to the specialists at Northwestern Medicine stroke centers downtown and in the western suburbs.

Download React F.A.S.T.