Signs of stroke and what to do next

Signs of stroke and what to do next

At the onset of a stroke, the stopwatch starts ticking. Acting fast and calling 911 could prevent brain damage and save the affected person's ability to function normally.

What is a stroke?

A stroke results from a lack of blood flow to the brain, which causes brain cells to die. A stroke usually affects one of the two sides of the brain. For each minute a stroke goes untreated and blood flow to the brain continues to be blocked, you lose about 1.9 million neurons, and, at some point, the damage to the brain is irreversible, said Victor Zach, MD, a neurologist and stroke specialist who is an independent member of the HonorHealth medical staff.

Stroke by the Numbers infographic (PDF).

Because movement on one side of the body is controlled by the opposite side of the brain, if a stroke affects the left side of your brain, you'll have problems with the right side of your body, Dr. Zach said.

Difficulty recognizing a stroke

Because stroke impairs the brain's ability to function, a person having a stroke will have altered perceptions and ability to communicate with others. This can make it very difficult or impossible for them to communicate or know what's happening.

"I had a colleague who was a neurologist and had treated many stroke victims over the years," said Dr. Zach. "One evening, she came home and thought she was experiencing a migraine. It turned out that she was having a stroke but couldn't recognize it, even though she was a professional."

Because of how severely stroke impacts your ability to recognize if you're doing OK, Dr. Zach said it's vital for people around them to get help when they notice something is wrong.

"My colleague's husband recognized the signs and brought her to the ICU as quickly as possible," Dr. Zach said. He stressed that observers and family members must intervene in the case of stroke.

Understanding stroke signs and symptoms

FAST is an acronym that can help you determine if someone is having a stroke:

  • F — Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • A — Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • S — Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the speech slurred or strange?
  • T — Time: If you see any of these signs, call 911 right away.

"You can also use the acronym VAN to remember that stroke affects vision, results in aphasia (language problems) and can cause a person to neglect one side of their body," Dr. Zach said.

What not to do

If you notice stroke symptoms in someone else, don't hesitate to seek help for him or her.

"It's important that if you think someone is having a stroke, you don't ask them what to do or believe them if they say they're all right, because, unfortunately, they probably don't know," said Dr. Zach.

Time is of the essence, so empower yourself to take charge of the situation, even if you're not sure how serious the medical issue is.

HonorHealth Scottsdale Osborn, HonorHealth Scottsdale Shea, John C. Lincoln and Deer Valley medical centers are certified as Primary Stroke Centers. This certification shows that the centers demonstrate a commitment to excellence to provide care that can significantly improve a stroke patient's outcome. Don't hesitate to ask the ambulance driver to take your loved one to the nearest Primary Stroke Center if he or she is having stroke symptoms.