Strokes are life-threatening medical emergencies that must be taken seriously. The CDC reports that in the United States, someone has a stroke every 40 seconds1, and every four minutes a person dies from a stroke. In fact, it’s the fifth-leading cause of death in the U.S. Therefore, it’s critically important to educate yourself and others about the signs and symptoms of strokes. This information will prepare you to discern whether you or someone you love may be having a stroke, so you can get the proper medical attention immediately.
A stroke occurs when a blood flow to the brain is interrupted. The blood vessels carrying blood to the brain could be blocked by a blood clot or plaque buildup (an ischemic stroke), or a blood vessel could rupture and bleed (a hemorrhagic stroke). Most strokes (87%) occur because of blood clots2. Like all organs in your body, the brain needs the oxygen carried in that blood to function. When it is cut off — even for a few minutes — brain cells begin to die.
Sometimes this blockage passes quickly, which is called a “transient ischemic attack,” or TIA. It’s commonly referred to as a “mini-stroke,” because it has similar signs but is only experienced briefly. A person could feel relatively normal after a TIA, so many people underestimate the gravity of “mini-strokes.” But they are not harmless. People who experience a TIA should call a doctor immediately. Even a short blockage of blood to the brain can be damaging long-term, and a full-blown stroke could be close behind.
You can get a quick, painless screening for risk of stroke and cardiovascular diseases like carotid artery disease with Life Line Screening to receive early detection or peace of mind. Learn more about Carotid Artery screenings.
There are a handful of specific symptoms that come with a stroke. If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these, call 9-1-1 immediately:
Because strokes can be so sudden and because they are life-threatening, it’s crucial to know the warning signs. In the moment, it is generally recommended to look for three primary problems: drooping face, numbness on one side and slurred or strange speech. When assessing someone quickly, it helps to remember the acronym “F.A.S.T.”3:
F- Face. Ask the person to smile. Does one side droop?
A- Arm. Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S- Speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
T- Time. If you see any of these signs, call 9-1-1 right away.
A stroke can have many lasting effects, or none at all, depending on the severity of the stroke and the patient’s other health issues. The brain is a complex organ that controls your entire body, with each section responsible for different functions. If the blood flow is cut off from a certain part of your brain, the body or functions controlled by that part of the brain will likely be hindered.
The American Stroke Association says that the effects of a stroke depend on the location of the obstruction and how much brain tissue was affected, ranging from damaged vision to paralysis5. If the left side of your brain is damaged, you may experience paralysis on the right side of your body, loss of memory, speech/language issues or a slow, cautious behavior style. If the right side of your brain is damaged, you may experience paralysis on the left side of your body, vision problems, memory loss or a quick, inquisitive behavioral style.
A stroke in the brain stem can be particularly severe because the brain stem is in charge of more basic functions. If the brain stem is damaged, both sides of the body may be affected, and a person may be left in a “locked-in” state, which means he or she would be unable to speak or move below the neck.
Recovering from a stroke can be a long, difficult journey, but in many cases, functions can be restored partially or fully. The American Stroke Association says that during the first three months after a stroke, it’s almost like having a new brain6. It’s ready to learn and make new connections. To move forward, it’s important to make a plan for rehabilitation with your medical provider and stick with it, especially if you want to prevent a second stroke or cardiovascular disease in the future. Rehabilitation requires a comprehensive approach, including lifestyle changes and a team of professionals like physical and occupational therapists, speech/language therapists, neurologists, working together with the patient to achieve success.
Life Line Screening’s carotid artery screenings are non-invasive, painless ultrasounds. The technician uses the ultrasound machine to create an image of the carotid arteries and determine the level of blockage, if any. You can schedule a screening anytime on our website.
Strokes are medical emergencies in which blood flow to the brain is interrupted, causing affected brain cells to die from lack of oxygen. It’s important to know the most common signs of a stroke (including face drooping, slurred or strange speech, numbness on one side of the body) to minimize damage and get treatment immediately. Cardiovascular conditions like carotid artery disease greatly increase your risk of having a stroke. Get screened today so you can prevent a medical emergency later.
1Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2021, March 17). Stroke Facts. https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/facts.htm#
2American Stroke Association. Types of Stroke and Treatment. https://www.stroke.org/en/about-stroke/types-of-stroke
3Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020, August 28). Stroke Signs and Symptoms. https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/signs_symptoms.htm
4Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2020, January 31). Preventing Stroke: Healthy Living Habits. https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/healthy_living.htm
5American Stroke Association. Effects of Stroke. https://www.stroke.org/en/about-stroke/effects-of-stroke
6American Stroke Association (2019). Life After Stroke: Our Path Forward. https://www.stroke.org/-/media/stroke-files/life-after-stroke/life-after-stroke-guide_7819.pdf