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What Is a Stroke?
Stroke is a medical emergency and a leading cause of death in the U.S. It occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts or, more commonly, when a blockage develops. Without treatment, cells in the brain quickly begin to die. The result can be serious disability or death. If a loved one is having stroke symptoms, seek emergency medical attention without delay.
Signs of a stroke may include:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the body, especially on one side.
- Sudden vision changes in one or both eyes, or difficulty swallowing.
- Sudden, severe headache with unknown cause.
- Sudden problems with dizziness, walking, or balance.
- Sudden confusion, difficulty speaking or understanding others.
Call 911 immediately if you notice any of these symptoms.
Stroke Test: Talk, Wave, Smile
The F.A.S.T. test helps spot symptoms of stroke. It stands for:
Face. Ask for a smile. Does one side droop?
Arms. When raised, does one side drift down?
Speech. Can the person repeat a simple sentence? Does he or she have trouble or slur words?
Time. Time is critical. Call 911 immediately if any symptoms are present.
Stroke: Time = Brain Damage
Every second counts when seeking treatment for a stroke. When deprived of oxygen, brain cells begin dying within minutes. There are clot-busting drugs that can curb brain damage, but they need to be used within three hours — up to 4.5 hours in some people — of the initial stroke symptoms. Once brain tissue has died, the body parts controlled by that area won’t work properly. This is why stroke is a top cause of long-term disability.
Diagnosing a Stroke
When someone with stroke symptoms arrives in the ER, the first step is to determine which type of stroke is occurring. There are two main types and they are not treated the same way. A CT scan can help doctors determine whether the symptoms are coming from a blocked blood vessel or a bleeding vessel. Additional tests may also be used to find the location of a blood clot or bleeding within the brain.
The most common type of stroke is known as an ischemic stroke. Nearly nine out of 10 strokes fall into this category. The culprit is a blood clot that obstructs a blood vessel inside the brain. The clot may develop on the spot or travel through the blood from elsewhere in the body.