How to spot the warning signs of a stroke

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off, preventing the tissue from getting the oxygen it needs. Without oxygen, brain cells begin to die within minutes. Making healthy lifestyle changes and working with your doctor to control your risk factors can greatly reduce your chances of having a stroke.

What causes a stroke?

Strokes have two different causes:

1. A clot blocks the flow of blood to the brain
2. A blood vessel bursts and prevents blood flow to the brain

During a stroke, every minute counts. Fast treatment can reduce the brain damage a stroke may cause.

What are the warning signs and symptoms of a stroke?

Anyone can have a stroke—at any age, and at any time. By knowing the warning signs of a stroke, you can take quick action and maybe even save someone’s life.

If you think someone may be having a stroke, act F.A.S.T.:

F = Face drooping: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A = Arm weakness: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S = Speech difficulty: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the speech slurred or strange?
T = Time to call 911: If you see any of these signs, call 911 right away.

Experiencing other sudden symptoms may be a sign of a stroke:

  • Numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Confusion, trouble speaking, or understanding speech
  • Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or coordination
  • Severe headache with no known cause

If the symptoms go away after a few minutes, it may be a sign of a transient ischemic attack (TIA), a serious medical condition, and you should seek medical care immediately. A TIA, sometimes called a mini stroke, is caused by a temporary blood clot.

5 steps to help prevent a stroke

Making healthy lifestyle changes and working with your doctor to control your risk factors can reduce your chances of having a stroke.

1. Control your blood pressure

High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is a leading cause of strokes. Know your numbers, and ask your doctor about natural ways to lower your blood pressure.

  • Limit the salt (or sodium) in your diet to no more than 1,500 milligrams a day (about a half teaspoon).
  • Eat foods that are low in saturated fats, trans fat, and cholesterol.
  • If possible, try to maintain a blood pressure of less than 120/80.

2. Eat a healthy diet

Making smart food choices can help you get to and maintain a healthy weight and decrease your risk of stroke.

3. Move more with physical activity

In addition to helping you maintain a healthy weight, physical activity can help lower your cholesterol and blood pressure—all factors that can reduce your risk of stroke.

4. Quit smoking

Smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer and also damages the brain and blood vessels, which increases your chances of having a stroke.

5. Avoid drinking too much alcohol

Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure and increase your risk of having a stroke.

  • Men should have no more than two drinks per day, and women should have only one.
  • Watch your portion sizes. A standard-sized drink is five ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of spirits.

Develop healthy habits when you’re young

Anyone can have a stroke, even when you’re young. The same factors that can cause strokes in older adults—high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes—can cause strokes in younger people. It’s never too early to take steps to reduce your risk factors for stroke.