A stroke or a “brain attack” occurs when the blood supply to part of your brain is cut off or sharply reduced, depriving brain tissue of oxygen and nutrients. Within minutes, brain cells begin to die and abilities controlled by that area of the brain such as memory and muscle control are lost.
The signs and symptoms of a stroke vary from one to another but usually develop suddenly. As different parts of your brain control different parts of your body, your symptoms will depend on the part of your brain affected and the extent of the damage.
Watch for the following signs and symptoms if you think you or someone else may be subject to a stroke. Remember that when these signs and symptoms appear, as the length of time they have been shown may guide your treatment decisions:
- Sudden trouble with speaking and understanding. You may experience confusion. You may slur your words or deliver difficulty understanding speech.
- Paralysis or numbness of the face, arm or leg. You may develop sudden numbness, weakness or paralysis in your face, arm or leg, especially on one side of your body. Try to raise both your arms over your head at the same time. If one arm begins to fall, you may be having a stroke. Similarly, one side of your mouth may droop when you try to smile.
- Sudden dimness of vision in one or both eyes. You may suddenly have blurred or blackened vision in one or both eyes, or you may see double.
- A sudden, severe headache, which may be accompanied by vomiting, dizziness or loss of consciousness, may indicate you’re having a stroke due to bleeding.
- Trouble with walking. You may stumble or experience sudden dizziness, loss of balance or loss of coordination.
When to see a doctor
If you or someone with you exhibits any of the signs of stroke, do not delay because timely treatment is critical to survival and recovery.
Think “FAST” and do the following:
- Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop or is it numb?
- Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward? Or is one arm weak and unable to raise up?
- Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Is his or her speech slurred or strange?
- If you observe any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 911 immediately.
Call 911 or your local emergency services right away. Don’t wait to see if symptoms pass. For each minute a stroke goes untreated and blood flow to the brain continues to be blocked, a person loses about 1.9 million neurons. The longer a stroke is untreated, the greater the potential for brain damage and disability. Early treatment can often help prevent a fatal or disabling stroke from occurring.
If you live with or care for somebody in a high-risk group, watch the person carefully while waiting for emergency assistance.