Derick Jones, M.D.
Many emergencies give you warning signs before they get to a life-threatening level. For example, heart attacks often come after chest pain and allergic-looking reactions, such as hives or swelling. But stroke symptoms can arise suddenly and leave you a small window of time to react effectively. It's important to act immediately if you suspect that someone is having a stroke.
Symptoms that might signal a stroke include:
- Sudden weakness, numbness or paralysis on one side of the body
- Sudden difficulties in speaking or understanding
- Visual impairment affecting one or both eyes
- Issues with balance, dizziness or walking
- Overwhelming headaches with no clear cause
A simple way to tell if someone is having a stroke is to complete the FAST test:
Ask the person to smile. Is it abnormal or drooping on one side?
Ask the person to extend their arms straight out at their sides. Can they hold their arms parallel? Does one arm drop downward?
Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, such as "The sky is blue." Does she or he miss or add words, or is speech slurred?
If you can answer yes to one or more of these questions, it's time to call 911.
If the person stops breathing, begin mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and turn their head to the side if he or she begins vomiting, to prevent choking. Also, be sure to keep anyone who may be having a stroke from eating or drinking.
The important thing to remember is that time is of the essence. Always seek medical attention immediately if you think someone you are with may be experiencing a stroke. With a stroke, every minute counts. The sooner you act, the greater the chance of survival and preventing long-term disabilities.
Learn more about stroke:
- Print a "What to know about stroke" flyer.
- Find out what a stroke is and the different types.
- Discover what you need to know about women and stroke.