According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), strokes are responsible for 5% of deaths in the U.S., more than 140,000 each year. If you’re a caregiver and you know the early signs of stroke, you may be able to save your loved one’s life or prevent permanent and disabling consequences. Here’s what you should know about the signs of stroke and some practical tips for caregivers.

What are the signs of a stroke?

The early signs of stroke are easily recognizable if you know what to look for. The American Stroke Association offers tips for caregivers and others in recognizing the signs of stroke, which you can remember using the acronym FAST:

  • F is for face. Is one side of the face drooping? You can ask the person to smile to help you check for face droop, an early sign of stroke.
  • A is for arms. Can the person raise both arms equally or does one tend to drift downward?
  • S is for speech. Is the person’s speech slurred? Can they repeat a simple sentence back to you accurately? Speech problems are one of the more common signs of stroke.
  • T is for time. To prevent death and minimize the effects of stroke, you have to act fast. If you notice any of these signs of stroke, call 911 immediately.

The American Stroke Association notes that not all early signs of stroke fit the FAST framework. Here are some other signs of stroke that may occur separately from, or in combination with, the FAST signs:

  • Sudden confusion, especially if there is trouble talking or understanding speech.
  • Sudden numbness or weakness on one side of the body.
  • Vision problems that happen suddenly in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden onset of dizziness, trouble walking, or problems with coordination.
  • Sudden severe headache.

It’s important to note the time the first signs of stroke appear so you can advise the medical team caring for your loved one. The American Stroke Association (ASA) notes that there is a three-hour window of time (up to 4.5 hours in certain cases) after a stroke occurs in which a clot-busting treatment called tPA can be administered which can potentially save your loved one’s life or minimize the complications from a stroke.

What are the effects of a stroke?

According to the American Stroke Association(ASA), a stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain either ruptures and or is blocked by a clot. When this happens, the affected parts of the brain are deprived of oxygen and brain cells begin to die. This damage is what causes the effects of a stroke.

According to the ASA, the effects after a stroke are different depending on where in the brain the stroke occurs and how much of the brain is affected.

Here are some tips for caregivers on what you might expect after a stroke, according to the ASA:

  • Paralysis on one side of the body.
  • Memory loss
  • Speech and language problems.
  • Behavioral changes.
  • Vision loss.

If the stroke occurs in the brainstem, a “locked-in” state may result, depending on extent of the damage. In a locked-in state, the individual is generally unable to speak at all or voluntarily move below the neck.

Tips for caregivers to help someone else prevent a stroke

The ASA breaks down the risk factors for stroke into those you can control and those you can’t, such as your age, sex (strokes are more common in women), and family history. Risk factors you can treat or control include:

  • High blood pressure. Know your numbers and follow your doctor’s treatment to keep your blood pressure under control. High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke, according to ASA.
  • Smoking. Smoking is a major risk factor for stroke. Get help so you can quit.
  • Diabetes. People with this disease are at higher risk for stroke. Follow your doctor’s recommendations for managing your blood sugar.
  • Obesity. Overweight people have a higher risk for stroke. Even losing a few pounds can lower your risk.
  • Exercise. Being physically inactive can increase your risk. Take small steps to increase your activity level, but remember to ask your doctor before starting a new exercise program.
  • High cholesterol. People with high cholesterol have a higher risk for stroke. Work with your doctor to lower your cholesterol.

Other diseases and conditions, such as peripheral artery disease, carotid artery disease, heart disease, and atrial fibrillation can also increase your risk for stroke. Talk to your doctor about your risk and what you can do to lower it.

Need more information on tips for caregivers after a stroke?

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This article provides general information, and is not a substitute for medical advice.  Only a licensed medical professional can diagnose and treat medical conditions such as a stroke.