Recognizing a stroke

National statistics show that Kentuckians suffer and die from strokes – which deprive blood to the brain and cause brain damage – at a high rate.

Because it’s crucial that a person who’s having a stroke get help as soon as possible, it’s important to know the signs of a stroke and to know what to do if you or someone near you might be having a stroke.

Signs of a stroke

A person who is having a stroke might experience:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion, or trouble speaking or understanding.
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden trouble walking; dizziness or loss of balance or coordination.
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
  • Problems breathing.
  • Loss of consciousness.

The acronym BE-FAST* can help you identify whether someone is having a stroke:

Conceptual image of a human head indicating dizziness.
Balance: Is the person having trouble walking? Loss of balance or coordination, dizziness.
Illustration of an eye.
Eyes: Is the person having trouble seeing? Change in vision in one or both eyes.
Silhouette of a woman's face.
Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
Illustration of an arm at rest beside a torso.
Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
A conceptual illustration of a speech bubble, indicating speaking.
Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is speech slurred or strange?
A conceptual image of a clock's face, indicating the passage of time.
Time: If you observe any of these signs, call 911 immediately.

Knowing the signs of stroke and acting in a timely manner can improve chances of survival and lessen the impact of recovery time.

Also, be aware of the possibility of a TIA, or “mini-stroke.” A TIA causes symptoms for only a few minutes, but a person who experiences a TIA is at greater risk for a full-scale stroke. Consider a TIA an emergency.

*BE-FAST was developed by Intermountain Healthcare, as an adaptation of the FAST model implemented by the American Stroke Association. Reproduced with permission from Intermountain Healthcare. Copyright 2011, Intermountain Healthcare.

What to do if someone is having (or might be having) a stroke

When someone suffers a stroke or a TIA, it’s crucial to get medical attention for him or her as soon as possible. Don’t drive the person to the hospital. Treat a stroke like a life-threatening emergency and call 911 immediately.

Even if you think a person might be having a stroke but you’re not sure, err on the side of caution and call 911.

Here’s why: A lack of blood to the brain kills brain cells, and quick action minimizes the damage.

About 85 percent of strokes are ischemic, meaning that the stroke was caused by a blood clot. A drug called a recombinant tissue plasminogen activator (or rtPA) can dissolve the clot, improve circulation to the part of the brain that’s been deprived of blood and aid recovery -- but for it to be effective, for most patients it must be administered within three hours of the stroke. And the sooner the better.

Note the time when symptoms first appear. Healthcare providers can use this information to make important decisions about treatment.