It can happen when you least expect it, without any warning. Hopefully you notice or someone notices right away as soon as it happens — trouble speaking or walking, one-sided weakness, or that your face looks a little funny.
What you’re experiencing could be a stroke or a brain attack, which is similar to a heart attack, but this kind of attack cuts off vital blood flow and oxygen to the brain.
There are two main types of stroke: Ischemic and hemorrhagic. An ischemic stroke happens when blood vessels (arteries) in the brain are blocked by either a gradual buildup of fatty deposits or a blood clot. About 85 percent of strokes are embolic.
Hemorrhagic strokes occur when a blood vessel in the brain bursts and blood leaks into the brain. These account for about 15 percent of all strokes, yet are responsible for more than 30 percent. Leakage of blood causes brain swelling and an increase of pressure in the skull. The pressure and inflammation damage brain cells and tissue.
There is also something called a TIA (transient ischemic attack). A TIA happens when blood flow to the brain is temporarily blocked. Like ischemic strokes, TIAs are often caused by blood clots but symptoms only last less than a minute or up to an hour.
Often referred to as “mini-stroke,” a TIA is no less serious. If you have experienced a TIA, you are at higher risk of having a stroke. Tests may determine the cause of the TIA and help you take steps to prevent another TIA or the occurrence of a stroke.
Always seek medical attention immediately because every minute counts.Risk factors that increase your risk for a stroke are high blood pressure, heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, obesity, physical inactivity, smoking and heavy or binge drinking. The chances of having a stroke also increase with age and if you have a family history of stroke. Men also have a higher risk of stroke than women.
It is important to recognize symptoms of stroke and act quickly. Every minute counts for stroke patients and acting “FAST” can help stroke patients get the treatment they need. The most effective stroke treatments are only available if the stroke is recognized and diagnosed within the first three hours of the first symptoms. Stroke patients may not be eligible for some stroke treatments if they arrive at the hospital after the three-hour window.
This simple test will help you detect stroke symptoms and act “FAST.”
Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase such as “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Are the words slurred or hard to understand?
Time: If you observe any of these signs, call your doctor and for an ambulance immediately and head to the closest emergency room.
Other symptoms of stroke include the following, which occur all of a sudden:
• Difficulty speaking or understanding
• Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
• Loss of balance or coordination
• Severe headache with no known cause
• Face and limb pain
• General weakness
Aside from taking the person who may be having a stroke to the ER, be sure to keep them from eating or drinking. If the person stops breathing, begin mouth-to-mouth resuscitation if possible and turn their head to the side if he or she begins vomiting, to prevent choking.
“Time is brain,” as neurologists say, and the importance of prompt recognition can’t be emphasized enough. Always seek medical attention immediately because every minute counts. The sooner you act, the greater the chance of survival and preventing long-term disabilities from a stroke. Time is of the essence, so act “FAST.”