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Stroke: What It Is and What to Do

As a journalist, Teri strives to educate and disseminate information. She will always tell you, "there's more to the story."

What Is a Stroke?

When someone is having what appears to be a stroke, every second counts. Discovery, diagnosis, and treatment must begin immediately.

A stroke or “brain attack” happens when blood flow to the brain is cut off, either because of a blood clot or a broken vessel. The brain needs a constant flow of blood and oxygen; brain cells die without it—and that process begins within minutes.

  • An ischemic stroke is when a blood clot disrupts the flow to one of the brain’s vital blood vessels.
  • A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when blood is spilled into surrounding tissues.

Results of a Stroke

As brain cells die, stroke victims may suffer loss or impairments in speech, physical ability, thinking, memory, bodily function, and emotional control. The range of impairments and recovery abilities depends on the location and size of the stroke.

Doctors at the Ohio State University Medical Center’s Neurovascular Stroke Center (Columbus, Ohio) say a small stroke can lead to minor problems (such as weakness in arms and legs) but larger “brain attacks” may cause loss of speech, impaired movement, or paralysis. Severe strokes can kill their victims.

Remember this acronym—it could save someone's life.

Remember this acronym—it could save someone's life.

Is It a Stroke?

Only a doctor can make an accurate diagnosis of any medical event. Keep in mind, says the OSU Medical Center, that people may experience symptoms differently and not all of the warning signs can occur during a particular episode. Additionally, some symptoms can mirror other medical problems. But doctors say that if you see (or personally experience) any or all of these signs, act fast because time IS of the essence! Brain cells begin to die within minutes of a stroke but medicine or surgery administered within three to six hours can mean less damage—and even a full recovery.

Be smart; call an ambulance or 911, even if the symptoms subside.

The Major Signs of a Stroke

  • Difficulty in speaking or understanding. Confusion and disorientation.
  • Weakness or numbness on the face, arm, or leg (especially on one side of the body)
  • Vision changes—diminishing sight in one or both eyes
  • Loss of balance and coordination. Dizziness.
  • Severe, unusual headache (with no other known cause)

“F.A.S.T.” Method for Rapid Stroke Assessment

F: Is the face droopy with an uneven smile?

A: Are the arms numb and weak?

S: Is the person’s speech slurred or garbled?

T: Time is of the essence, call 911! Get to the hospital immediately.

Is it a stroke?

Is it a stroke?

Five Simple Tests to Assess if Someone Is Experiencing a Stroke

Doctors at the University Hospitals Neurological Institute (Cleveland, Ohio) suggest would-be stroke victims “give five.”

  1. Walk: Check for balance. Is the affected person able to stand up straight or does he or she slope to one side? Is he/she dragging one foot when trying to walk? Is there a leaning on one side and a loss of strength on the other side? Is his/her balance shifting toward one side?
  2. Talk: Check for slurred speech. Is the affected person having trouble speaking? Is one side of the face sagging and when he talks, does it sound garbled or mumbled? Do his words and sentences make sense?
  3. Reach: Check to see if one side of the body is numb or weak. Have the person raise her arms; does one fall down? Can she hold onto something? Can she squeeze your fingers? Touch her on the skin of both arms to determine if there is a physical reaction.
  4. See: Check vision. If the person wears eyeglasses or contact lenses, determine if his vision is “normal” or blurry. Is it projecting double images? Can he see everything in front of him? Are his eyes light-sensitive?
  5. Feel: Check for headaches. Is it very painful? Ask him to gauge the pain on a scale of one to ten (with ten being the worst). Is the headache any different from “normal” aches, and if so, how different? Do bright light or loud sounds make the headache worse?

Call 911!

Other Signs and Symptoms of Stroke

  • Nausea or vomiting (not caused by viral illness)
  • Fainting
  • “Mini Stroke” (Transient Ischemic Attack). TIA has short-term stroke symptoms (a few minutes to about 24 hours). This “mini stroke” can be a precursor to a stroke but not all episodes are preceded by a TIA.

Recurring Strokes

About 25% of stroke victims have another episode; typically right after the first one. Although the risk decreases over time, the likelihood of disability and death increases. Statistics show about 3% of stroke patients have a second stroke within 30 days of their first one and about 33% have a second stroke within two years.

Stroke Prevention

Steps can be taken to prevent strokes says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ways to live a healthier lifestyle include:

  • Daily Food Intake: A healthy, low-sodium diet includes fruits, vegetables and high-fiber foods low in saturated fat and cholesterol.
  • Weight Control: The CDC says being severely overweight can increase the risk for stroke. Height and weight measurements are used to calculate a person’s Body Mass Index.
  • Activity: Physical activity controls weight and helps to keep cholesterol and blood pressure at lower levels.
  • Smoking and Alcohol: Smokers who indulge in cigarettes, cigars and other forms of tobacco are at a higher risk for stroke. Ingesting too much alcohol can cause a variety of medical issues which, in turn, can lead to stroke.

Staying Healthy

  • Keep track of your blood pressure: There are no symptoms for high blood pressure so have it checked frequently.
  • Keep track of your cholesterol: Cholesterol is a fat-like substance that can become thickened on artery walls. Some cholesterol is OK but having high levels in your blood may put you at risk for heart disease and stroke. There are NO symptoms of high cholesterol; a basic blood test is needed to check its levels.
  • Manage diabetes: If you have diabetes, monitor your blood sugar as directed by your doctor and follow your personal medical regimen. If you don’t have diabetes, learn more about how to avoid it.
  • Take prescribed medicines: Follow drug dosage and instructions carefully, whether it’s for cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes or any other medical condition. Talk to your doctor and ask questions when there’s something you don’t understand.
  • Take an active role in your health care: Prevent and/or treat medical conditions by talking to your doctor about a personal health care plan. Follow the plan! Most importantly, ask questions and consider second (or third) opinions on serious diagnoses.

Stroke Resources

Resources for Reducing Your Likelihood of Having a Stroke

© 2014 Teri Silver


Katina Davenport from Michigan on July 19, 2014:

This is a great hub. I don't know if you saw the video clip of a young woman having a stroke while in her car. She went to the doctors because she felt something was wrong with her, but the sent her home. Well, she had a stroke after she left her check up and recorded it on her phone. She had a lot of the symptoms listed here. I voted up because it is important for people to be aware of strokes.

Lynn Jones from USA on July 18, 2014:

Great hub regarding stroke, love the detail work you put into this hub and to the point, it is good to know not only the symptoms of a stroke, but how to prevent it as well, by eating right and exercise. Thanks for sharing on the hub the great and needed information. Voted up /plus. 718214122p lyns