Northwestern Lake Forest Hospital Health Tip: Signs and symptoms of a stroke

On average, one American dies from a stroke every four minutes. Stroke is also the leading cause of adult disability in the United States. Recognizing a stroke when it occurs can save lives, and yet a recent study reported that 1 in 5 women can’t identify a single stroke warning sign – even though it’s the fourth leading cause of death among Americans.

When a stroke occurs, rapid medical attention is crucial. When treatment is received promptly, a person has a far greater chance of surviving the stroke and more likely to have less lasting damage.

Immediate medical care should be sought if one or more of the following warning signs are observed:

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

Strokes leave more than two thirds of survivors with lasting disability.  Some stroke risk factors are inherited, but making healthy decisions can dramatically lower a person’s risk of having a stroke.  An overall healthy lifestyle that emphasizes weight management through regular exercise and a diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and low in high-sodium and high-fat foods, is important for overall health. Controlling blood pressure is critical, and not smoking and limiting alcohol will also decrease your likelihood of having a stroke.

People with preexisting medical conditions or with family members who have had a stroke are at an increased risk of stroke. Cardiovascular conditions including irregular heartbeat and poor circulation because of narrowed arteries heighten stroke risk. Neurological conditions including aneurysms and vascular malformations can cause bleeding in the brain, which is often the cause of stroke in young individuals. Proper treatment for these conditions plays an important role in risk reduction and prevention.

To remember the signs of stroke, the National Stroke Association recommends using the acronym FAST:

  • 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
  • Speech – Ask the person to speak. Does the person have slurred speech or trouble speaking?
  • Time – If you observe any of the above signs, call 911 immediately.

Remember that the speed of treatment is essential when stroke is occurring, so if you see warning sign do not hesitate to seek immediate medical care.

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