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Stroke: Acting Quickly Matters

Stroke: Acting Quickly Matters

This article is for people who want to learn more about stroke. The goals of this patient education activity are to increase awareness about the risk factors for a stroke and how to recognize if a stroke may be happening, and to help people know when to get emergency medical help for a stroke.

You will learn about:

  • What an ischemic stroke is and its potential complications

  • How to recognize a stroke and when to get emergency medical help

  • Why treating a stroke quickly is important

  • If you may be at risk for a stroke

  • Talking to your doctor about stroke

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What Is a Stroke?

Your bloodstream carries the oxygen your body needs to your different organs and tissues, including your brain. With a stroke, the blood flow to your brain is lowered, interrupted, or cut off completely and your brain doesn't get enough necessary oxygen. When this happens, your brain cells can begin to die within minutes.

A stroke is a medical emergency, so getting immediate medical attention and treatment is important. Taking early action can help reduce the potential brain damage and other complications, or additional problems, that a stroke can cause.

The Most Common Type of Stroke Is Ischemic

An ischemic stroke happens when the blood vessels carrying oxygen (arteries) in your brain narrow or get blocked. This can happen when fatty deposits called plaque build up in your vessels, and/or when a blood clot gets stuck in your vessels.

Other types of stroke can include hemorrhagic stroke, transient ischemic attack (TIA or ministroke), brain stem stroke, or cryptogenic stroke where the cause is unknown.

A Stroke Can Have Serious Complications

Depending on how long and which part of your brain is without oxygen, a stroke can cause temporary or permanent complications that may be severe and even life-threatening, such as:

  • Paralysis where you can't move or you lose control of certain muscles

  • Trouble swallowing, eating, or speaking

  • Difficulty thinking and problems with memory, understanding, making decisions, and language

  • Emotional and behavior problems, such as trouble controlling your emotions, depression, being withdrawn, or ignoring personal grooming and daily chores

  • Pain or numbness in the parts of your body affected by the stroke

How to Recognize a Stroke

Symptoms of a stroke can include:

  • Sudden weakness, drooping, numbness, trouble moving, or paralysis in your face, arm, or leg, usually on one side of your body

  • Dizziness or problems with balance, coordination, or walking

  • Headache, especially if it's sudden or severe

  • Confusion

  • Slurring your words, trouble speaking, or problems understanding what others are saying

  • Problems seeing in one or both eyes, such as double, blurry, or blackened vision or vision loss

Get Help F.A.S.T.

If you or someone you're with may be having stroke symptoms, call 911 or your local emergency number right away, even if symptoms come and go or stop altogether.

Think F.A.S.T. and look for the following:

  • Face. Is one side of the face drooping? Is the smile uneven or lopsided?

  • Arms. Is one arm weak or numb? Does it fall or drift downward when raising both arms?

  • Speech. Is speech slurred or strange? Is it hard to talk or understand language?

  • Time. If you see any of these, time is of the essence. Call 911 or emergency medical help immediately

Every Minute Counts

Calling 911 at the first sign of a stroke can help you get emergency medical help in time for life-saving care. Stroke treatment can start the moment help arrives.

Do not drive yourself, have someone else drive you, or drive another person to the hospital. Calling emergency medical services (EMS) or an ambulance means that treatment can be given on the way to the emergency room.

The longer a stroke goes untreated, the greater the chances of brain damage and complications. The key to stroke treatment and recovery is getting emergency medical help as quickly as possible. It can even save a life.

Why Treating a Stroke Quickly Is Important

Some treatments for stroke are most effective when given within a certain amount of time after symptoms start.

For ischemic stroke, medicines and/or procedures may be used to get the blood flowing back to your brain quickly. Emergency medicine that's given within 3 hours from when stroke symptoms first started can help break up a blood clot. The sooner treatment is given, the better.

Emergency procedures that remove a blood clot or deliver medicine directly inside the blocked vessel may also be used. Some of these must be performed as soon as possible.

Are You at Risk for a Stroke?

Factors that can put you at risk for a stroke can include:

  • Atherosclerosis where plaque collects in your arteries narrowing them and causing your blood flow to slow and form clots

  • Your age. Starting at 55, increasing age increases stroke risk

  • Having a personal or family history of stroke, heart attack, or TIA

  • Diabetes

  • High blood pressure

  • High cholesterol

  • Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) where your breathing briefly stops while you sleep

  • Heart infections

  • Irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation)

  • Problems with your heart valves or the blood vessels in your neck

  • Blood clotting problems

Talking to Your Doctor About Stroke

Talk to your doctor about if you may be at risk for a stroke and ways you can help lower your risk. Together you can develop a plan that may include managing any health conditions you have and lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, maintaining a healthy weight, staying physically active, eating a balanced diet, and limiting alcohol.

And be sure to ask your doctor about how you can recognize a stroke, what to do if symptoms do happen, and when to call for emergency medical help.

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You have successfully completed the program Stroke: Acting Quickly Matters.

View Additional Materials on this topic that you may find useful:


Types of Stroke

Stroke Signs and Symptoms

Stroke Treatment


Authors and Disclosures

Clinician Reviewer

Joy P. Marko, MS, APN-c, CCMEP

Senior Medical Education Director, Medscape, LLC.

Disclosure: Joy P Marko, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.


Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh

Associate Director, Content Development, Medscape, LLC.

Disclosure: Anita A. Galdieri, PharmD, RPh, has disclosed no relevant financial relationships.


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