Testing for Stroke – Signs and Symptoms of a Stroke

Stroke is sometimes referred to as a "brain attack". Strokes are categorized into different types: ischemic strokes which occur when a blood clot blocks an artery causing an interruption in the blood flow to all or part of the brain and hemorrhagic strokes (cerebral hemorrhages) where there is bleeding in the brain which can cause damage to the brain tissue. A Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA), considered a "mini" or warning stroke, is a temporary interruption of the blood flow to part of the brain which causes no lasting damage, however it can be an indication that the person is at risk for a possible future stroke.

According to the National Stroke Association:
"Stroke is the third leading cause of death in America and the No. 1 cause of adult disability."

In honor of National Stroke Awareness Month and wanting to solidify these facts in our brains, we're reviewing the signs and symptoms of a stroke and how to test when you think someone is having stroke.

First, the symptoms of a stroke.

The symptoms of a stroke are sudden and can include:

  • Numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg (especially on one side of the body)
  • Confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Difficulty walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Severe headache with no known cause

It's extremely important to act fast when these sudden symptoms appear. A quick response time can sometimes reduce long-term disability as in some instances of ischemic strokes a clot-busting drug can be administered. However, the window for this treatment is a mere three hours. If you need to travel to the hospital for treatment, the clock can be used up quickly with travel time and the process of admission to the hospital. Every second counts!

Remembering to act FAST will help you to remember how to react when you believe someone may be suffering from a stroke (if you notice trouble with any one of these tests or if a difficulty in understanding or communicating prevents the person from being able to complete the tests, immediately call 9-1-1 or the emergency service number in your area):

Tests for Stroke
Face Ask the person to smile. Is one side droopy (asymmetrical aka not the same on both sides)?
Arms Ask the person to raise both arms and keep them elevated. Does one arm drift downward?
Speak Ask the person to form or repeat a simple sentence. Incorrect? Words slurred?
Time Above all, time is important. Call 911 / emergency services even for only one symptom.

If the person completes the test by fully smiling, elevating both arms and keeping them at the same level, and correctly formulates and repeats a sentence, they are probably not suffering from a stroke. However, any of the symptoms above are still cause for concern and the person should seek proper medical attention.

Note: Facial weakness and paralysis can present as a symptom in other conditions such as Bell’s palsy, Ramsey Hunt syndrome, and Lyme disease, as well as others. Proper medical evaluation by a trained professional is necessary.

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