Strokes can be devastating. Around 795,000 people experience one each year, and approximately 17.6 percent result in death. Even if a stroke isn’t fatal, it can have major health implications. It can affect your speech, your mobility, and your independence.

Knowing how dangerous strokes can be, it’s important to be able to spot one as soon as possible. If you or a loved one start showing any signs of a stroke, seek emergency medical care right away.

What is a Stroke?

Much like a heart attack, a stroke, or a “brain attack,” occurs when oxygen-rich blood fails to reach a part of the body, causing cells to die. However, in this case, the affected cells are in the brain instead of the heart.

There are two types of stroke: hemorrhagic and ischemic. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a brain aneurysm bursts or a weakened blood vessel in the brain leaks. As blood floods into or around the brain, it damages brain cells. Hemorrhagic strokes are less common than ischemic strokes, but account for almost 40 percent of stroke deaths. An ischemic stroke is when a blood clot blocks oxygen-rich blood from reaching part of the brain, causing brain cells to die. Roughly 87 percent of strokes fall into this category.

Spotting the Signs FAST

With a stroke, the sooner you’re able to get help, the better. Luckily, there’s a way you can remember the basic signs of a stroke and what to do FAST. Just remember, you have to act FAST. If you or a loved one experience Face drooping, Arm weakness, or Speech difficulty, it’s Time to call 911.

  • Face drooping — Does the person’s face look or feel numb? Is one side of it drooping? Have them try to smile. Is it uneven?

  • Arm weakness — Is one of the person’s arms numb or weak? Have them try to raise both arms above their head. Does one arm struggle to stay up?

  • Speech difficulty — Is the person slurring their words or having difficulty speaking? Have them try to say a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.”

  • Time to call 911 — If the person is showing any of these signs, call 911 immediately. Every second is crucial. Take note of when you began seeing the symptom(s) since the responders will ask.

Deeper Signs

Knowing the FAST signs is essential to quickly recognizing a stroke, but they aren’t the only things to watch for. We mentioned numbness in the arm or face, but it may manifest as numbness in the legs. You should especially take note of numbness that only appears on one side of the body. Along with numbness, you may experience extreme dizziness or blurry vision in one or both of your eyes. You may even have difficulty standing or maintaining balance.

Confusion is also a common sign of stroke. Pair that with the slurring of words and difficulty speaking and communication can become nearly impossible. That’s why trying to get the person suffering from stroke to say a simple, easily recognizable sentence like “The sky is blue” is so important. It can help you identify confusion and slurred speech.

Finally, if you have a severe headache with no apparent cause, this may be a sign that you’re having a stroke as well. The severe headache will appear rapidly and without reason.

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If you or a loved one is experiencing any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately. As we noted earlier, minutes can save a life. If your symptoms go away, this doesn’t necessarily mean you’re in the clear. You’re still at risk of a transient ischemic attack (TIA), commonly known as a mini-stroke. While not a full stroke, a TIA is still a medical emergency and can signal future strokes. Even if you just think you or a loved one could be having a stroke, seek medical help immediately!