Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), about 795,000 people in the United States have strokes each year. They can happen to anyone at any age. While most strokes occur in older adults, almost 1 in 4 strokes affects people under 65.
A quick response is critical to limit damage from stroke. DaMarcus Baymon, MD, a Mass General Brigham emergency medicine doctor, outlines important steps that you can take immediately to identify stroke symptoms, and what to do if someone is having a stroke.
Use the acronym F.A.S.T. to remember what to look for, and the importance of acting quickly:
Speech difficulties, and
The primary signs and symptoms of stroke are described by the F.A.S.T. acronym above, but other symptoms can include:
Dizziness or balance problems
Blurred vision or loss of vision in one or both eyes
Severe headache with unknown cause
If you think you’re having a stroke, don’t drive yourself to the hospital or ask someone else to drive you. Call 9-1-1 if you feel the onset of these symptoms or if someone with you is reporting them.
If you or someone you’re helping has a history of stroke, tell the emergency responders or doctors providing care. This information may help determine emergency treatment.
There are two types of strokes:
When someone has a stroke, it can be a frightening and uncertain situation. If you follow the F.A.S.T. steps, however, you can save a life or prevent serious disability for yourself or someone you care about. Following stroke, there are steps you or a loved one can take to help reduce risk of future strokes.
You can lower the risk of stroke by making lifestyle changes. Here’s how:
Quit smoking. Smoking raises blood pressure and contributes to coronary artery disease.
Limit alcohol consumption. Doctors recommend no more than two alcoholic drinks per day for men and one per day for women.
Exercise regularly. Doctors recommend 30 minutes a day of moderate to vigorous exercise that raises your heart rate, 5 days a week.
Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is a major risk factor for stroke and other cardiovascular conditions.
Manage stress and anxiety. Stress and anxiety can also increase the risk for stroke. Activities such as meditation, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), or other calming practices help reduce the risk for stroke.