Knowing Stroke Signs Can Save Lives

World Stroke Day encourages knowing the warning signs and raising awareness

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) In the US, someone has a stroke every 40 seconds. To lower that rate, the American Stroke Association is urging people to learn the stroke warning signs for World Stroke Day on October 29.

One in six people worldwide will have a stroke in their lifetime. When stroke strikes, a blood clot or bleeding blood vessel prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching the brain. A person can develop brain damage or die if he or she doesn’t get help fast.

Knowing the symptoms of a stroke can save a life, but a new survey commissioned by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association (AHA/ASA) has found that even those who care for family or friends at high risk for stroke may not know the warning signs.

"Learn the warning signs of stroke."

Demetrius Lopes, MD, surgical director of RUSH University Stroke Center in Chicago and an American Heart Association/American Stroke Association spokesperson, said that patients don’t always recognize their own stroke, and when they do, sometimes their symptoms make calling for help difficult, if not impossible.

Stroke victims may need to rely on others to recognize symptoms and get help fast.

In a recent study of 260 stroke caregivers and 299 non-stroke caregivers, the AHA/ASA reported that only 41 percent of caregivers for individuals with health concerns other than stroke knew three or more stroke warning signs, and 58 percent of stroke caregivers knew these signs.

About 46 percent of caregivers who take care of those with high blood pressure (a major risk factor for stroke) knew three or more stroke warning symptoms.

Rani Whitfield, MD, a family practitioner and AHA/ASA spokesperson in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, told dailyRx News, “The survey found that people who care for others — whether they care for a stroke survivor or not — have room to grow when it comes to knowing the signs of stroke. In a stroke emergency, it’s often someone else who needs to recognize what’s happening right away and act. If the person you care for is at high risk for stroke, you could be in that position. Learning the stroke warning signs is an easy thing we can do to be prepared to help our loved ones.”

The American Stroke Association’s Together to End Stroke initiative advocates using the acronym F.A.S.T. to help people remember stroke warning signs:

F - Face Drooping: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.

A - Arm Weakness: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S - Speech Difficulty: Is speech slurred, are they unable to speak, or are they hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence like, “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?

T - Time to call 911: If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 911 and get them to the hospital immediately.

Dr. Lopes said in a statement, “Those with loved ones who have stroke risk factors should make it a priority to learn F.A.S.T. and teach others. Recognizing a stroke and calling 911 gives the patient a greater chance of getting to an appropriate hospital quickly and being assessed for life-saving treatment like a clot-busting drug or medical device.”

The AHA/ASA also encourages people to learn the major stroke risk factors other than a prior stroke:

  • High blood pressure - The most important controllable risk factor for stroke is hypertension. About three out of four people who have a first stroke have blood pressure higher than 140/90 mm Hg.
  • Transient ischemic attack - About 15 percent of strokes are preceded by a “mini stroke” called a transient ischemic attack.
  • Atrial fibrillation (AFib) - Stroke risk increases up to five times with AFib, which affects more than 2.7 million Americans.
  • Smoking - Current smokers have two to four times greater likelihood of stroke compared to nonsmokers or those who quit more than 10 years ago.

Dr. Whitfield told dailyRx News, “The prevention message for stroke is really important. Get that high blood pressure under control and talk to your doctor about stroke risk. It’s equally important to learn the stroke warning signs and share them with others. Stroke can happen to anyone at any time and being prepared can save a life.”

For information on a free mobile app that can help a person spot a stroke and identify hospital nearby, visit the American Stroke Association website.

Review Date: 
October 21, 2013
Last Updated:
October 21, 2013