How to Spot Warning Signs of a Stroke

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How to Spot Warning Signs of a Stroke

Every 40 seconds, someone in the US suffers a stroke. That’s around 795,000 people every year, and some 137,000 of those will die. But would you know how to recognize the warning signs if you saw someone having a stroke, and would you know what to do? Swift action is critical when dealing with strokes, because the patient’s chances of survival are significantly higher if they receive treatment within the first hour.

What causes a stroke?

The blood vessels in the brain provide oxygen and nutrients to keep our brains functioning properly. If the blood supply is interrupted, the brain becomes starved of oxygen, and this can have a catastrophic impact on its ability to control different functions. There are two ways these blood vessels can stop delivering blood to our brains—by becoming blocked, or by rupturing.

A blocked blood artery causes an ischemic stroke, accounting for 80% of strokes. In 20% of stroke cases, a blood vessel in the brain ruptures, causing a hemorrhagic stroke. You may also suffer a ‘mini-stroke’ (also known as a Transient Ischemic Attack or TIA), during which the artery is only blocked temporarily. In a mini-stroke, the symptoms might only last a little while, but it’s still important to seek medical attention urgently. A TIA could be a precursor to a full stroke.

The characteristic symptoms of a stroke usually only affect one side of the body.

Who’s most at risk of having a stroke?

About 60% of strokes occur in women, and black women are 16% more likely to suffer a stroke than white women. 40% of strokes affect men, with black men having a 26% higher risk than white males.

You’re also more likely to have a stroke if you have high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol or if you smoke.

Why is fast action essential?

A stroke cuts off or limits blood supply to the brain, and the longer the brain is without oxygen, the more damage is caused. If the areas affected include critical organs or functions such as the heart muscle or your breathing, a stroke can be life-threatening. But whichever areas are involved, the more the brain is damaged the harder it will be to recover—many people are left significantly disabled after a stroke.
This is why the word ‘FAST‘ has been adopted as an acronym to help you to know which signs to look out for if you suspect a stroke and to tell you what you should do.


‘F’ stands for ‘Face.’ Does the patient have a drooping or twisted face? If you ask them to smile, is their response lop-sided? This is a classic symptom of a stroke.


‘A’ stands for ‘Arms.’ Does the patient have a weakness in one arm? They may not even be able to move that arm. If you’re not sure, ask them to raise both arms in the air and see if one drops down more quickly than the other.


‘S’ stands for ‘Speech.’ Speech is commonly affected during a stroke, becoming slurred, confused or even absent. If in doubt, ask them to repeat a simple sentence (e.g. ‘the car is red’) – if they have difficulty, this could indicate a stroke.

Time to call

‘T’ stands for ‘Time to call.’ There is nothing you can do to treat a stroke yourself, and every second counts when it comes to getting prompt medical attention. Call the emergency services immediately. It’s also important to make a note of the time the symptoms first started so the doctors will know exactly what has happened and when. This information will help them to administer the correct treatment as effectively as possible.

Other possible symptoms

Other possible symptoms of a stroke include the following: numbness or weakness in the legs (or down one whole side of the body), dizziness, loss of balance, and difficulty swallowing. Confusion and loss of coordination are also quite common, so the patient may have trouble understanding you or not seem to comprehend what’s going on around them. In severe cases, the person may have an extremely severe headache or lose consciousness.

Remembering the FAST acronym could make all the difference if you or a loved one suffer a stroke.