“Time is brain.”
Chances are, you’ve heard this phrase before. The popular mantra emphasizes timely care in the event of a stroke. Time lost is brain lost. But would you know if you or a loved one were having a stroke?
“Most people know that a stroke is a dangerous health issue, but not as many people would be able to identify it when it happens to them,” says Christopher Reid, MD, neurologist at Bryn Mawr Hospital. “They’re quick to brush it off or think ‘It couldn’t happen to me.’”
The reality, says Dr. Reid, is that it can happen to anyone, regardless of age, race, gender, or health history, and knowing the symptoms is key to saving a life. Below, he explores some of the most common warning signs.
Headaches that accompany stroke are often sudden and severe. In some cases, they may also be accompanied by a lack of consciousness. This loss of consciousness is often brief.
Changes in vision
A number of vision changes can signal a stroke, including trouble seeing in either one or both of your eyes, a brief loss of vision, blurry or blackened vision, or seeing double. This change in vision is caused by blocked blood vessels in the retina or brain, explains Dr. Reid.
One of the telltale signs of a stroke is difficulty speaking or understanding.
“One of the most common symptoms of a stroke is that the patient has difficulty speaking and is slurring their words, not making sense, or having trouble understanding what someone is saying,” says Dr. Reid.
If you suspect someone is having a stroke, ask them to repeat a basic phrase to determine whether their speech is affected.
Lack of coordination
Everyone can be clumsy sometimes, but a stroke can cause you to feel dizzy, lose your balance, or stumble, even when you’re walking slowly.
Patients who have had a stroke often describe feeling weakness or numbness in their arms, legs or face. This can occur on one or both sides of the body, and there’s an easy way to test for it, says Dr. Reid.
“Try raising your hands in front of you at the same time. If you can only hold one arm up and are having difficulty lifting the other or it starts to fall, you may be having a stroke. You can also try smiling—if one side of your face droops, that could also be a sign of a stroke.”
If you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms, it’s important to act quickly. Call 911 for immediate medical attention for yourself or others. Remember you can also test for signs of stroke in others using F.A.S.T.
“F.A.S.T stands for Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, and Time to call 911,” explains Dr. Reid. “It’s a simple way to remember the symptoms of stroke and the importance of acting quickly.”