Each year approximately 795,000 Americans will suffer a stroke, or approximately one stroke in the United States every 40 seconds. Early detection is essential to prevent lasting damage to the brain or even death – but do you know the signs to watch for?
Recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the 4th leading cause of death among Americans – if you are experiencing the early warning signs of a stroke, seconds matter if you are going to avoid being part of this statistic.
What exactly is a stroke? This is what happens when a blood vessel responsibility with supplying oxygen to the brain either becomes blocked, preventing it from carrying out this function or the blood vessel bursts. In both cases, the brain is starved of the oxygen that it requires to function, killing off brain cells and causing long-term damage. This lack of oxygen is the reason that you require medical attention as soon as possible, as left untreated it can lead to death.
Some will experience a ‘mini-stroke’, or a transient ischemic attack (TIA). While the term ‘mini-stroke’ might appear like this is something you can take lightly, after all, it’s not a ‘real stroke’, right? This is actually a very serious warning sign, often happening before a major stroke. This is when there is a blockage of the blood vessel, but only for a short period of time. It results in the same signs and symptoms, however when the blockage clears, the symptoms fade. If this occurs, don’t think you’re in the clear just because your symptoms are gone! Get yourself to a doctor!
The F.A.S.T. approach was created to help spread awareness about the main warning signs, and how to react. A short acronym, making it easier for the general public to remember, the F.A.S.T. approach is shared by doctors, healthcare professionals, and the American Heart Association:
Remember the letters in ‘FAST’ to identify the signs of stroke:
F: Face Drooping
“Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven or lopsided?”
A: Arm Weakness
“Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?”
S: Speech Difficulty
“Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like ‘The sky is blue’. Is the person able to correctly repeat the words?”
T: Time to Call 9-1-1
“If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and say, ‘I think this is a stroke’ to help get the person to the hospital immediately. Time is important! Don’t delay, and also note the time when the first symptoms appeared. Emergency responders will want to know.”
While the F.A.S.T. signs and symptoms are definitely the most common symptoms out there, there are additional indications that something is happening. It’s important to note that most of these signs may also be attributed to other medical conditions – however if you experience a sudden onset of any of these symptoms, especially in conjunction with any of the F.A.S.T. signs, get medical assistance immediately!
Unexplained aches, pains and muscle stiffness that come on suddenly and without reason.
A sudden loss of balance and coordination, which may lead to difficulty standing still unassisted for any period of time or walking.
Feelings of lightheadedness or dizziness without an explanation (like low blood sugar).
The feeling of weakness, numbness, ‘pins and needles’ or paralysis in any part of the body without a reasonable explanation.
Sudden and unexplained headaches that refuse to let up.
Changes in vision including vision difficulties in one or both eyes, blurred vision or tunnel vision.
A twitching sensation in the eyes, or involuntary eye movements.
A drop in mental cognition including memory loss and confusion.