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Could You Tell If You Were Having a Stroke?

Dr. Boris Chulpayev, Neurology

May 16, 2019

Could You Tell If You Were Having a Stroke?

Sometimes the symptoms of stroke are unclear, so a stroke expert explains what to look for – and what to do next.

In the movies, a character suffering a stroke will often grab his arm and slur his speech dramatically before collapsing to the ground. While this is not medically inaccurate, not all strokes happen this way. Sometimes the symptoms come on subtly, or the person thinks they are related to something else and dismisses them.

When it comes to stroke, you will hear doctors like me use the phrase: time is brain. This means that every minute a stroke is left untreated, an estimated 1.9 million neurons are destroyed. The faster and more effectively you can respond to stroke, the better the patient’s outcome. Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the US and also the primary cause of long-term disability.

The best way to tell if you are having a stroke is to seek emergency medical attention. To expand on that, if you or a loved one is experiencing a “vague” symptom, and it is the very first time this symptom is present, medical attention is warranted. Especially, if you or the patient has a significant medical history of hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, cancer, etc.

Recognizing the signs and symptoms of a stroke, in yourself or a loved one, is key. The most common “mistake” people make is waiting -- some for symptoms to improve, while others are in denial and discount the symptoms until they become debilitating. Some stroke patient do not even realize that they are dealing with a deficit until they have a fall or someone else notices it.

Watch for these symptoms:

- Sudden onset of numbness or tingling in your arms legs or face or particularly one side of the body;

- Weakness on one side or part of the body;

- Trouble speaking or difficulty finding the right words;

- Sudden onset of unconsciousness;

- Confusion;

- Trouble walking, or feeling off-balance;

- Sudden onset headache of unknown cause.

The American Stroke Association has developed an easy-to-remember aid to help identify and respond to a possible stroke – FAST!

F = Face drooping. Is one side of the person’s face drooping or numb? Or is their smile uneven?

A = Arm weakness. Is one arm experiencing weakness or numbness? If both arms are raised, does one droop down?

S = Speech difficulty. If the person is asked to repeat a simple phrase, can they repeat it back? Is it slurred or hard to understand?

T = Time to call 9-1-1. If any of these signs are present, dial 9-1-1 immediately and note when the symptoms first appeared.

Better that it turns out to be a false alarm than something much more serious and life-altering.

To learn more about emergency services and our Advanced Stroke Program at White Plains Hospital, call (914) 681-1155. Remember in an emergency, always dial 9-1-1 first.