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Be On The Lookout For Stroke Symptoms

By Matt Narrett, M.D., Chief Medical Officer at Erickson Senior Living
June 19, 2023

Stroke is a leading cause of disability and death in the U.S., with someone having a stroke every 40 seconds and someone dying from a stroke every four minutes.

For most of our lives, physicians were practically powerless in treating strokes. But thanks to advances in CT and MRI imaging, along with medical and pharmacologic interventions, the impacts of a stroke can now be lessened.

The treatment of a stroke is time sensitive, meaning that early recognition of the signs and prompt medical attention can lead to better outcomes. Many professionals in health care now refer to a stroke as a brain attack to raise awareness that strokes, like heart attacks, are treatable.

What is a stroke?

A stroke is characterized by a loss of neurologic function, due to an interruption in blood supply to a portion of the brain. Over 85% of strokes are due to blood flow being blocked by a blood clot. Fortunately, if we act quickly, we can treat the blood clots with medicine--or remove them entirely--and thus mitigate the impact of the stroke.

Patients who receive thrombolytic medicine, which breaks up or dissolves clots, or have mechanical thrombectomy, which removes the clot, within a few hours of symptom onset are more likely to recover fully and have less disability. Studies also show that these patients are less likely to require long-term care. In patients experiencing hemorrhagic strokes, prompt treatment to stop the bleeding has been shown to result in better outcomes as well.

Acting quickly means getting to the emergency room soon after you recognize symptoms. What symptoms to look for is easy to remember, thanks to the mnemonic FAST, which was developed in the United Kingdom in the 1990s. FAST, which is embraced by many organizations, including the National Stroke Association and the American Heart Association, stands for Face, Arms, Speech, and Time.


How to apply FAST:

  • Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of their face droop?
  • Arms: Ask them to raise both arms and watch carefully to see if one arm drifts down.
  • Speech: Ask them to repeat a phrase. Do you hear slurring or does their voice sound different?
  • Time: Acting quickly is crucial. If you notice any of these signs, call 911 immediately.

Stroke symptoms tend to appear quickly. Other symptoms may include numbness on one side of the face or body, confusion, difficulty understanding speech, vision problems in one or both eyes, loss of balance or coordination, or a sudden severe headache.

It's best, of course, to prevent a stroke in the first place. Leading a healthy lifestyle by eating a Mediterranean diet, exercising regularly, and managing medical conditions, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, are steps you can take to prevent a stroke. Know your risk factors and manage them, but remember to act FAST if a brain attack does occur--it can make all the difference.

Health and well-being are at the forefront of the active and engaged lifestyle at Erickson Senior Living communities. To learn more about Erickson Senior Living, request a free brochure.