On average, one person every 40 seconds has a stroke in the United States. Early medical treatment can significantly improve the outcome of a stroke, there before being able to recognize the first signs & symptoms is incredibly important.

What is a stroke?

A stroke is a problem with the blood vessels that supply in the brain. The brain has a large and complex system of arteries and veins supplying it with blood. The medical term for a stroke is cerebrovascular accident (CVA). Another term sometimes used for a stroke is a “brain attack”.

Broadly, there are two types of stroke:

Ischaemic stroke: A blood clot blocks an artery in the brain causing death of brain tissue.

Hameorragic stroke: An artery in the brain ruptures causing internal bleeding.

Ischaemic strokes are more common than Hameorragic strokes and both require urgent emergency medical care. Strokes cause a variety of neurological symptoms which can be different for individual people. The severity of the stroke will depend on how much of the brain has been affected and for how long.

There are numerous risk factors for having a stroke, some of the most common include:

  • Age
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure (Hypertension)
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Family history
  • History of previous strokes

For more information on stroke risk factors and how to reduce your risk, you should speak to your Doctor.

Recognizing a stroke using the FAST test

If you suspect a stroke, there is a simple test you can use. The 'FAST' test:

F ace: Does the person have any facial weakness? Can they smile evenly? Does one side of their face appear to droop?

A rms: Can the person raise both arms equally? Can they squeeze your hands?

S peech: Can the person speak clearly? (for example, say his or her name)

T ime: Time to call an ambulance if the person fails any of the above tests.

Remember, not all of these signs may be present. If you suspect a stroke for any reason then call an ambulance. Try to remain calm and provide reassurance as the person will be incredibly frightened. If the person is in a public place then try and provide some privacy and move people on.

Sometimes the symptoms can appear to ease and even disappear completely. This is known as a Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA) or “mini stroke”. These often preceded larger more serious strokes, so urgent medical advice should be thought if you suspect someone has suffered a TIA.