What is a stroke?
A stroke—also called a cerebrovascular accident (CVA) or brain accident—happens when a blood clot travels to the brain or when a brain blood vessel bursts. Strokes can cause brain damage and death. However, learning the warning signs of a stroke can lead to early medical intervention, which leads to a better outcome in some people.
Signs of a stroke
The acronym F.A.S.T. is a great way to remember stroke symptoms.
1. F - Face drooping
One side of the face drooping is a sign of a stroke. If part of the face is numb, that may also be a sign. To tell for sure, ask the person to smile. If the smile is lopsided, they may be having a stroke.
2. A - Arm weakness
Ask the person to lift both arms. If one arm is weaker and drifts down, they may be having a stroke. Numbness or weakness on one side of the body is a common stroke symptom.
3. S - Speech
Slurred speech or difficulty talking coherently may be a sign of stroke. Say a simple sentence like: "The sky is blue today." If the person has trouble repeating it, they may require medical attention.
4. T - Time
When someone is having a stroke, time is of the essence. If you suspect a stroke, get medical attention right away. Call 911 or take them to the nearest emergency department immediately.
Overall, the five biggest warning signs of a stroke are:
- Weakness or numbness on one side of the body
- Difficulty talking
- Sudden changes in vision
- Sudden difficulty walking
- A sudden severe headache
Other signs of stroke include:
- Feeling dizzy
- Lack of balance or stability
Types of stroke
During a hemorrhagic stroke, a blood vessel in the brain leaks or tears. Blood then pools and puts pressure on the brain, leading to damage. High blood pressure and aneurysms usually cause hemorrhagic strokes.
Transient ischemic attack (TIA)
Also called a mini-stroke, this type of stroke occurs for fewer than five minutes and may not cause as much damage. Even so, they are a major warning sign for major strokes and are still a medical emergency.
At the beginning of a stroke, you don't know whether it will be a mini-stroke or a major one, so it's important to call 911 or bring the person to the nearest emergency department immediately.
Over 33% of people who have a TIA will have a major stroke within the next year. Up to 15% of people who have a TIA will have a major stroke in the next three months.
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Causes of stroke
Strokes are caused by:
- Blood clots blocking arteries to the brain
- Trauma to brain arteries
- Rupture of brain arteries
- Leakage in brain arteries
However, several conditions lead to a higher risk for a stroke.
High blood pressure
Many people with high blood pressure have no symptoms. Yet, it is one of the leading causes of a stroke. The best way to find out if you have high blood pressure is to check it often. If you do have high blood pressure, follow your doctor's recommendation for lifestyle changes or prescription medication to reduce your risk of stroke.
Sickle cell disease
In this blood disorder, some red blood cells are sickle-shaped. This shape is more likely to get stuck in blood vessels, leading to a stroke.
Previous strokes or mini-strokes
Those who have already had a stroke or mini-stroke have a higher risk of having another one.
Diagnosis for stroke
If you have stroke symptoms doctors will perform several tests and exams to diagnose you. They may:
Treatments for stroke
Experts say that time is of the essence when it comes to strokes. The faster you get to the hospital, the better outcome you may have. Those who take an ambulance to the hospital may get a faster diagnosis, and thus, faster treatment.
If you arrive at a hospital within three hours of your first stroke symptoms, and you have an ischemic stroke, you will likely receive a "clot-busting" medication known as a thrombolytic. This breaks up blood clots, allowing blood flow to return to normal. People who get this treatment have less brain damage and are less likely to require long-term care after a stroke.
In the case of a hemorrhagic stroke, doctors may repair the leaking or ruptured artery via an endovascular procedure. They insert a long instrument through one of the major arteries in the arm or leg. They use the instrument to install a device to repair the artery or stop the bleeding. Some hemorrhagic strokes require surgery.
After a stroke, most people need some kind of rehabilitative treatment. However, this treatment is different for each person, depending on the severity of the stroke and brain damage. The goal of rehabilitation is to help people who have had a stroke live as independently as possible.
Even so, ten percent of people who have had a stroke will require long-term care. However, another ten percent will recover completely. Most people fall somewhere in the middle, with minor to moderate impairments.
Rehabilitation treatment may occur in:
- The hospital
- A rehabilitation facility
- A long-term care facility
- At home
- An outpatient facility
After having a stroke, you may work with a variety of doctors and medical professionals to help with rehabilitation. Some of these people will help you with future stroke prevention, and others help you regain function and improve impairments. Some people you may work with include:
- Physical therapist
- Rehabilitation nurse
- Occupational therapist
- Speech-language pathologist
- Social worker
- Case manager
- Recreational therapist
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
American Stroke Association: "Rehab Therapy After a Stroke."
American Stroke Association: "Stroke Symptoms."
Beaumont: "Stroke Symptoms: From FAST to FASTER."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "About Stroke.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Conditions That Increase Risk for Stroke."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Stroke Treatment."
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Types of Stroke."
The Internet Stroke Center: "Ischemic Stroke."
Medline Plus: "Stroke."
UC San Diego Health Neurological Institute: "Warning Signs and Risk Factors for Stroke."
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Early Warning Signs and Symptoms of Stroke (FAST)Stroke is a serious medical condition. If you think you or someone you know is having a stroke call 911 immediately. There are two main types of strokes, hemorrhagic and ischemic (the most common type). A hemorrhagic stroke occurs due to a blood vessel rupture in the brain. An ischemic stroke occurs when a blood clot becomes lodged in a blood vessel in the brain, which causes a loss of blood supply to the brain, possibly causing brain tissue death. FAST is an acronym that helps people identify stroke signs and symptoms so they can act fast and call 911. Face drooping, Arm weakness, and Speech difficulty are indicators that a person may be having a stroke and it is Time to seek emergency medical treatment. Additional signs and symptoms of stroke may include weakness, difficulty walking, blurred vision, dizziness, headache, confusion, difficulty speaking, and loss of sensation. Stroke is a major cause of death and disability in the U.S. Early identification and treatment of stroke helps reduce the risk of morbidity and mortality.
Heart Attack vs. Stroke Symptoms, Differences, and Similarities
Heart attack usually is caused by a clot that stops blood flow supplying oxygen to an area of heart muscle, which results in heart muscle death. Stroke or "brain attack" is caused by a loss of blood supply to the brain (usually a blood clot) or by hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding within the brain), which results in brain tissue death. Both heart attack and stroke usually come on suddenly, produce similar symptoms, can be disabling, and can be fatal.
The classic symptoms and warning signs of heart attack are different.
Classic heart attack warning signs are chest pain or discomfort, shortness of breath, pain that radiates to the shoulders, back, arms, belly, jaw, or teeth, sweating, fainting, and nausea and vomiting. Moreover, woman having a heart attack may have additional symptoms like abdominal pain or discomfort, dizziness, clammy skin, and moderate to severe fatigue.
The classic symptoms and warning signs that a person is having a stroke are confusion or loss of consciousness, sudden severe headache, speech problems, problems seeing out of one or both eyes, and numbness or weakness of only one side of the body. Moreover, a woman having a stroke may have additional warning symptom and signs like shortness of breath, disorientation, agitation, behavioral changes, weakness, nausea, vomiting, seizures, and hiccups.
Recognition of stroke symptoms is vital for emergency treatment. The acronym "FAST" stands for recognition of Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, and a Time for action.
If you experience the symptoms heart attack or stroke (FAST) or see them develop in another person, then contact 911 immediately.
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StrokeA stroke is an interruption of the blood supply to part of the brain caused by either a blood clot (ischemic) or bleeding (hemorrhagic). Symptoms of a stroke may include: weakness, numbness, double vision or vision loss, confusion, vertigo, difficulty speaking or understanding speech. A physical exam, imaging tests, neurological exam, and blood tests may be used to diagnose a stroke. Treatment may include administration of clot-busting drugs, supportive care, and in some instances, neurosurgery. The risk of stroke can be reduced by controlling high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and stopping smoking.
Stroke vs Aneurysm (Differences and Similarities)A stroke or "brain attack" is caused because blood flow to an area of the brain has been cut off by a blood clot or by a weakened or damaged blood vessel (for example, head trauma). The damaged area of the brain dies, which results in loss of function like speech capabilities, muscle movement, or muscles of an extremity like an arm or leg is reduced or lost completely. An aneurysm is a weakness in an artery wall. This weakness in the wall causes the artery to widen or balloon out, and then they rupture or break open.
Stroke vs. Mini-Stroke (TIA) DifferencesA stroke or "brain attack" occurs when a blood clot or artery ruptures within the brain. The rupture or clot causes brain cell damage or death. A mini-stroke (TIA, transient ischemic attack) is caused by brain cells that dysfunctional over a short period. Stroke and mini-stroke warning signs of stroke and mini stroke are the same, and include, speech problems, weakness, numbness, and facial droop. Side effects of stroke may be permanent and you may never regain full function of the parts of the body affected. Mini-stroke side effects usually resolve within minutes to a couple of days. A transient ischemic attack (mini-stroke) is a precursor for stroke because 40% of individuals who have a mini-stroke will have a stroke within a year. Treatment of stroke depends upon the type and parts of the body affected.
Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA, Mini-Stroke)
When a portion of the brain loses blood supply, through a blood clot or embolus, a transient ischemic attack (TIA, mini-stroke) may occur. If the symptoms do not resolve, a stroke most likely has occurred. Symptoms of TIA include: confusion, weakness, lethargy, and loss of function to one side of the body. Risk factors for TIA include vascular disease, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Treatment depends upon the severity of the TIA, and whether it resolves.
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