Top half of white police car with lights flashing. Green trees in background.

Would you know a stroke if you saw it?

Share this story now

On a beautiful Saturday morning, you and your best friend sit down on the patio of your favorite coffee shop. While waiting for your cappuccinos to arrive, your friend starts filling you in on the latest in her life — the daughter about to graduate from high school, the adorable red sandals she just picked up at NorthPark, the anniversary trip she and her husband are planning to Mexico.

Then mid-discussion of all-inclusive resort amenities, her speech starts slurring. The coffee arrives, but she’s unable to reach for it. Something isn’t right — but do you know what’s wrong? Would you be able to tell that your friend is showing signs of a potentially debilitating — if not deadly — stroke?

An attack on the brain

A stroke, or brain attack, happens when blood flow to the brain is stopped. It is an emergency situation.

Because the brain needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients in order to work well, cutting off that supply can be devastating.

Ever heard the saying “Time lost is brain lost?” Doctors use it to describe the damage caused by a stroke. Brain cells begin to die after just a few minutes without blood or oxygen. The more time that goes by without emergency help, more brain cells die. As more brain cells die, more brain function that is lost.

What a stroke looks like

During a stroke, a person may not be able to do things that are controlled by the blocked-off part of the brain. For example, a stroke may affect the ability to move, speak, see, or control other bodily functions.

Stroke symptoms may happen suddenly, and each person’s symptoms can vary. Doctors recommend that you think of the acronym FAST — it’s an easy way to remember the most common signs of stroke.

F — Face drooping. One side of the face is drooping or numb. When the person smiles, the smile is uneven.

A — Arm weakness. One arm is weak or numb. When the person lifts both arms at the same time, one arm may drift downward. (Weakness can occur in a leg as well, with the person having trouble walking.)

S — Speech difficulty. You may hear slurred speech or difficulty speaking. The person can’t repeat a simple sentence correctly when asked.

T — Time to call 911. If someone shows any of these symptoms, call 911 right away. Call even if the symptoms go away. Make note of the time the symptoms first appeared — this is important for the doctors to know and can affect how the person is treated.

In addition to the FAST symptoms, some others to know are:

  • Vision problems
  • Dizziness or problems with balance or coordination
  • Severe headache with no known cause, especially if it happens suddenly
  • Sudden nausea or vomiting not caused by a viral illness
  • Brief loss or change of consciousness, like fainting, confusion, or seizures.

Saving brain

Remember, a stroke is an emergency situation. It’s important to start treatment as quickly as possible to preserve brain function or even save a life. Some treatments can only begin within a certain time window, so don’t hesitate to call 911 when you notice symptoms.

That person next to you — maybe your best friend — could owe her life to your fast action.

Read more stories about patients who had successful stroke treatment at Methodist Health System hospitals.