Recognize the Warning Signs of Stroke and Act Quickly When Minutes Matter

This article was reviewed by our Baystate Health team to ensure medical accuracy.

Heydi Flores Podadera, MD Heydi Flores Podadera, MD View Profile
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stroke signs and symptoms

May is National Stroke Awareness Month

Because every minute counts when it comes to surviving a stroke, now is the perfect time to check your awareness of warning signs of a stroke. How much do you know about stroke and how to recognize the signs? 

Studies have shown that many Americans still do not know the warning signs of a stroke or how to manage their risk factors to reduce their chances of having a stroke.

“It is vitally important to be able to recognize the signs that you or someone you are with may be having a stroke. Better stroke outcomes begin with stroke recognition and calling 911 immediately. You need to act quickly because the longer you wait to get care, the more damage occurs to your brain cells,” says Dr. Heydi Flores Podadera of the Department of Neurology at Baystate Health.

What is a stroke?

Stroke is the result of a clot obstructing the flow of blood to the brain, referred to as an ischemic stroke, or by a blood vessel rupturing and preventing blood flow to the brain, considered a hemorrhagic stroke.

What are the Warning Signs of a Stroke?

Major warning signs of a stroke are:

  • Numbness or weakness on one side of the body – a drooping face or arm that falls when you lift it up. These symptoms can also apply to the spine, legs and feet
  • Sudden severe headache
  • Blurry vision, loss of peripheral vision, or total loss of vision in one or both eyes
  • Feeling abnormally confused
  • Problems communicating, which could include slurred speech or the inability to understand what someone is saying to you
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or lack of coordination

“Just as a heart attack may look different for some women, the same is true for women and stroke,” says Dr. Podadera.

While women and men share a common set of stroke and heart attack symptoms, signs of stroke in women may also include nausea or vomiting, general weakness and fainting spells, shortness of breath, sudden non-stop hiccups, and extreme tiredness with the onset of a stroke.

Remember the Acronym BEFAST

If you or someone you know may be having a stroke, you can recognize the warning signs by remembering the stroke acronym B. E. F.A.S.T.:

  • B stands for balance (abnormal or loss)
  • E stands for eye-vision loss/double vision
  • F stands for face drooping
  • A stands for arm weakness,
  • S stands for speech difficulty
  • T stands for time to call 911

If you or someone you know displays these symptoms, don't second-guess yourself - call 911.

Know Your Stroke Risk Factors

“Just as it is important to know the signs of a stroke, it is as important to know your risk factors for stroke and work with your primary care provider to reduce your risks,” says Dr. Podadera.

“Some risk factors cannot be controlled such as age and family history, but other risk factors can be managed with lifestyle changes. High blood pressure places you at greater risk for stroke and is the most important risk factor to get under control,” she adds.

Other risk factors include:

Anyone Can Have a Stroke

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stroke risk increases with age and doubles every 10 years after age 55 but can occur at any age. In fact, about one in seven strokes occur in adolescents and young adults ages 15 to 49 with the belief that strokes are occurring in a younger population because more young people are being diagnosed with obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Stroke also differs by race and ethnicity. The risk of having a first stroke is nearly twice as high for Black people as white people, and Black people have the highest rate of death due to stroke. Though stroke death rates have declined for decades among other races and ethnicities, Hispanic people have seen an increase in death rates over the years.

The good news is that most strokes – some 80% - can be prevented by lifestyle changes and treating your risk factors such as lowering your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, losing weight if you are obese, eating a heart-heathy diet, and exercising more.

Knowing the warning signs of stroke is critical to getting the patient to the hospital and stroke treatment as fast as possible. Even those not in high-risk categories can have a stroke, so remember the signs and call 911 if anyone exhibits stroke warning signs. 

Learn More About Comprehensive Stroke Care at Baystate Health

The acute stroke team at Baystate Medical Center provides care for more than 1,700 stroke patients each year, more than any other hospital in western Massachusetts. Treatment and rehabilitation services include inpatient stroke services, stroke emergency services, telestroke services, rehabilitation services after stroke, and stroke support services.

When it comes to stroke, minutes matter. Fast evaluation and treatment saves lives and makes rehabilitation more effective.

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Learn more about stroke prevention and care at Baystate Health.

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