Recognizing signs of stroke can help save brain function

Stroke is an attack on the brain, affecting the arteries leading to and within the brain. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or ruptures. When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood and oxygen it needs so that part of the brain and brain cells die. This can lead to permanent damage and changes in speech, mobility and memory.

Stroke can occur in anyone though certain factors put people more at risk, including having:

People who drink alcohol and those who smoke are also more at risk for stroke at some point in their lives. The condition is also more common in women and in the African American population.

There are two types of stroke:

  • Ischemic – The more common of the two types, this is when a blood vessel gets blocked, cutting off flow to the brain.
  • Hemorrhagic – This is less common but can be deadly, caused by a brain aneurysm or a leaking blood vessel.

While less common than strokes caused by a blood clot, hemorrhagic strokes cause death more often than ischemic strokes. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a weakened blood vessel, either an aneurysm or an arteriovenous malformation (AVM), ruptures and bleeds into the brain. The leaked blood puts too much pressure on brain cells, which damages them. Hemorrhagic strokes that are caused by bleeding cannot be treated with tPA (tissue plasminogen activator, a medication that helps break up blood clots) because the medication can cause more bleeding. Instead, this type of stroke is treated with other neurointerventional procedures such as endovascular coiling.

Know the signs of stroke and act in time

Watch for these signs and symptoms if you think you or someone else is having a stroke. There can be a range of symptoms from barely noticeable difficulties moving and speaking to paralysis. Do not wait for the symptoms to worsen or improve. If you think you are having a stroke—or if someone you know is having stroke—call 911 immediately.

  • Sudden paralysis, numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, usually on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, swallowing or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness or loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

Think FAST

Seek immediate medical attention if you notice any signs or symptoms of a stroke, even if they seem to fluctuate or disappear. Think “FAST” and do the following:

  • Face. Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • Arms. Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward? Or is one arm unable to raise up?
  • Speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is his or her speech slurred or strange?
  • Time. If you observe any of these signs, call 911 immediately. The sooner stroke is diagnosed, the more effectively it can be treated.

While new stroke guidelines indicate a longer treatment window for administering clot-busting medication and for surgical removal of blood clots (thrombectomy), it’s still important that you get stroke help as soon as you see signs of stroke.

Don’t ignore the signs and symptoms of a warning stroke or “mini stroke”

Many people ignore stroke symptoms that disappear quickly during a “mini stroke” or TIA (transient ischemic attack) because a mini-stroke doesn’t leave any permanent damage. Typically, a mini stroke lasts for one to five minutes, with symptoms that are the same as those of a full-blown stroke. The only difference between a TIA mini stroke and a full-blown stroke is that with the TIA the blockage is temporary:

  • At least 40 percent of the people who have a mini stroke will have a full-blown stroke within 90 days to a year.
  • Nearly half of all full-blown strokes occur within the first few days of a TIA mini stroke.
  • The goal of TIA management is to prevent a future stroke. Your medical team can identify your medical and lifestyle risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, overweight and obesity, heart and vascular disease and create a stroke prevention plan.

For stroke and TIA, it’s important to act quickly by calling 911.

If you have symptoms that are concerning you or you recognize certain symptoms in a loved one, you may want to talk with a doctor. The doctor will perform a physical exam and review of your medical history. Additional testing may be ordered, such as:

Stroke is considered treatable as many of the risk factors are related to diet and lifestyle. If you have a stroke, however, your treatment will depend on the severity of your condition and what needs to be treated. Hemorrhagic stroke treatment may vary from ischemic stroke treatment. Most treatment approaches include a combination of dietary changes along with medications that break up blood clots. You might also benefit from stroke rehab as well as assistive technologies.

To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.