A stroke occurs when blood flow to part of the brain is interrupted by a blood clot, resulting in the death of brain cells. A stroke can also be caused by bleeding into the brain tissue.

Strokes can cause permanent brain damage, but with quick action, sometimes the damage can be stopped or reversed. Although strokes are most common in older adults, a person of any age, even a child, can have a stroke.

Some people experience transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), or “mini-strokes.” TIAs cause sign sand symptoms similar to those of a stroke, but the signs and symptoms go away after a short period of time.

A person who has had a TIA is at very high risk for having a stroke in the near future. In fact, more than 10 percent of people who have a TIA will have a stroke within 3 months, with half of these strokes happening within 48 hours of the TIA.

For this reason, whenever a person experiences signs and symptoms of stroke, even if the signs and symptoms seem to go away, the person should seek immediate medical attention.

Signs and Symptoms of Stroke

The signs and symptoms of stroke can vary from person to person. A person who is having a stroke may suddenly develop one or more of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Trouble with speech and language, including slurring of words, being unable to form words or being unable to understand what others are saying
  • Drooling or difficulty swallowing
  • Drooping of the features on one side of the face (for example, the eyelid and the corner of the mouth)
  • Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Weakness
  • Paralysis or numbness of the face, arms or legs, especially on one side of the body
  • A sudden, severe headache
  • Dizziness or loss of balance
  • Confusion
  • Loss of consciousness
  • The “FAST” check (Figure 5-1) is a quick way of checking for signs and symptoms of stroke.

First Aid Care for Stroke

If you think that a person is having (or has had) a stroke, call 9-1-1 or the designated emergency number immediately. Note when the signs and symptoms first started (or, if you do not know when the signs and symptoms started, note the last time the person was known to be well).

This is important information to give to EMS personnel because some of the medications used to treat stroke are only effective within a certain time frame after the onset of signs and symptoms.

Stay with the person and provide reassurance until help arrives. If the person is responsive but not fully awake, or if the person is drooling or having trouble swallowing, put the person in the recovery position and monitor the person’s condition until EMS personnel arrive.