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What to Do If Someone Is Having a Stroke

Contributor: DaMarcus Baymon, MD
6 minute read
An elderly man has a stroke at home.

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. 

How to tell if someone is having a stroke: F.A.S.T.

Use the acronym F.A.S.T. to remember what to look for, and the importance of acting quickly:

  • Facial drooping

  • Arm weakness

  • Speech difficulties, and 

  • Time

What does a stroke feel like?

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

  • Trouble walking

  • 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.

Strokes can happen to anyone at any age. Rapid response is critical to preserve someone’s life and abilities. Remember, act F.A.S.T. and you could make a huge difference.

DaMarcus Baymon, MD
Emergency Medicine Doctor
Mass General Brigham

Types of strokes

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:

  1. Ischemic strokes. Nearly 9 in 10 strokes are ischemic. They result from a blood clot in the brain. 

  2. Hemorrhagic strokes. These are caused by bleeding in the brain. This is usually due to a blood vessel or a brain aneurysm that breaks inside the brain and causes blood to leak out. 

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.

Diagram of the differences between ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes.

Stroke risks and prevention

You can lower the risk of stroke by making lifestyle changes. Here’s how: 

  • 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.

  • Monitor chronic health conditions and take prescribed medications. Conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and high cholesterol all increase stroke risk. Take any medications your doctor prescribes to manage these conditions and keep risk for stroke under control.

DaMarcus Baymon, MD headshot


Emergency Medicine Doctor