Knowing Signs of a Stroke Could Save Loved Ones

Stroke is the leading cause of disability and the third leading cause of death in the United States. An estimated 700,000 to 750,000 new or recurrent strokes occur each year in the United States. According to the New York State Department of Health, In 2004 New York State had 6,855 deaths due to stroke.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month. Learning the signs of stroke and calling 911 for help are the best ways to prevent disability and death from stroke. All of the major symptoms of stroke appear suddenly, and without warning and they are often not painful. The most common symptoms of stroke can be remembered by the acronym FAST:

  • F = Face: Is one side of the face drooping down?
  • A = Arm: Can the person raise both arms, or is one arm weak?
  • S = Speech: Is speech slurred or confusing?
  • T = Time: Time is critical!! Call 9-1-1 immediately!

Other, less common symptoms of the most common type of stroke are sudden trouble seeing, sudden dizziness, and generalized weakness.

There are two major kinds of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic. In an ischemic stroke a blood vessel becomes blocked, usually by a blood clot, and a portion of the brain becomes deprived of oxygen and will stop functioning. Ischemic strokes account for 80 percent of all strokes. Rapid diagnosis and treatment of acute ischemic strokes is essential to reduce death and disability from stroke.

A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain bursts and spills blood into the brain. When this happens, a portion of the brain becomes deprived of oxygen and will stop functioning. Hemorrhagic stroke accounts for about 20 percent of strokes. The most common signs of a hemorrhagic stroke are:

  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause, often described as "the worst headache of my life."
  • Partial or total loss of consciousness, vomiting or severe nausea, when combined with other symptoms.
  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.

There is also something referred to by caregivers as Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIAs) or mini-strokes. The symptoms are the same as for a major stroke. In a TIA, the blood clot that is blocking the flow of blood in the brain breaks up on its own and the symptoms disappear after a short period of time. TIAs generally don’t cause severe brain damage, but they are a warning sign of a future stroke and should be taken seriously. Even if symptoms disappear quickly, it is important to seek medical care immediately to prevent a future major stroke.

According to the National Stroke Association, up to 80 percent of strokes are preventable. Everyone can take steps to reduce their risk for stroke by knowing their own risk factors and taking action to reduce those risks. Talk to your doctor about what you can do to reduce your risk for stroke. The following conditions can lead to stroke: high blood pressure or hypertension (leading cause of stroke); carotid or coronary artery disease; atrial fibrilation (irregular heart beat); diabetes; tobacco use; prior transient ischemic accident (TIA) or stroke; elevated levels of cholesterol; excessive alcohol use; genetics.

If you or someone you know has suffered a stroke, visit the National Stroke Association Web site for a free guide on recovering from stroke and preventing future strokes. For more resources on strokes, visit the New York State Department of Health Website at

If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at or by calling (315) 598-5185.