Stroke Signs and Symptoms – FAST and 9 More!

drawing of damaged brain, blurred emergency sign in background

(Part 1 of 2 Articles)  Stroke is a serious health issue that is being publicized more and more these days. Stroke used to be thought of as something that happens to elderly people but the truth is that it can happen to anyone, at any age. Despite the increase in stroke awareness, many people do not know what the signs and symptoms are. And there could be more to identifying a stroke than people realize.  I found this to be true in my own personal experience.  Before diving into the signs of a stroke, we need to discuss what a stroke is.

What is a stroke?

Many people think that a stroke happens in the heart, when in fact it happens in the brain.  A stroke is when an area of brain cells are deprived of oxygen because blood flow is cut off to that area. The affected brain cells die during the stroke, and the functions controlled by that area of the brain are lost – such as speech or balance or muscle control.  The good news is that the brain is an amazing bio-technical machine, and brain cells that surround the affected area will often compensate by ‘re-wiring’ to restore some or all of the lost functioning.

About strokes

There are 2 types of stroke: Ischemic or Hemmorhagic

Ischemic strokes occur when a blood clot stops the blood flow into the brain or into any part of the brain. About 87% of strokes are ischemic strokes.

Ischemic strokes fall into two categories: embolic or thrombotic.

• An embolic stroke happens when a blood clot or a fragment of plaque forms somewhere in the body (possibly in the heart) and travels to the brain.

• A thrombotic stroke occurs when a blood clot has formed inside one of the arteries that supplies blood to the brain. It often happens in people that have atherosclerosis or calcification on the artery walls. A risk factor is high cholesterol..

• More information about ischemic strokes can be found here

Hemorrhagic strokes are not as common – the statistics tell us that only 15% of strokes are hemorrhagic. Surprisingly, about 40% of all stroke deaths are from hemorrhagic strokes.

A hemorrhagic stroke can be caused by 2 things:

• a brain aneurysm burst or

• a leak from weakened blood vessel.

In either case blood overflows into the brain or around the brain, which causes pressure and swelling, and damages brain tissue and brain cells.  More information can be found here

What is a TIA? 

TIA is often referred to as a ‘mini-stroke’ and stands for transient ischemic attack.  A TIA is when the flow of blood to the brain stops for a short period of time. The signs of a TIA are often similar to the signs of a stroke, and they generally disappear within 24 hours.  There is usually no permanent brain damage, and TIAs are considered to be a sign that a stroke could happen.  For this reason, any event that mimics a stroke should not be ignored. It is estimated that 40% of the people who have a TIA will have an actual stroke.  According to the National Stroke Association almost half of all strokes take place within a few days of having a TIA.

Signs and symptoms of a stroke

FAST – an easy way to identify a stroke

The FAST acronym is literal and very appropriate for identifying a stroke. Time is extremely important when it comes to any type of stroke. Getting medical attention as quickly as possible is key to limiting brain damage and increasing chances of a good recovery.  FAST has successfully been used to bring awareness to the importance of quick action in the event of stroke. Here is what it stands for:

F for face – is there any numbness or drooping of the face? Is the person able to smile normally without it being lopsided?

A for arms – is there any arm numbness or weakness?  Can the person raise both arms normally? Or is does one arm droop downward?

S for speech – is there any difficulty with speech, such as slurred words or being unable to speak?  Can the person repeat a simple sentence correctly, such as ‘the sky is blue’?

T is for time – if you notice any of the above 3 common signs, DO NOT DELAY – call 9-1-1 immediately! Time is super important!  Even if you are not sure it is a stroke – call 9-1-1!

9 less common symptoms of a stroke

Did you know there are 9 other signs or symptoms of a stroke?  While using the FAST acronym is quick, incredibly helpful and can be very accurate, these 9 other signs are not as common and could also indicate a stroke.  I know this from personal experience because my husband recently had a mild stroke that was caused by very unusual circumstances, not related to a buildup of plaque in the arteries and veins. During his stroke he only had one of the three FAST signs – slurred speech, yet he had all 9 of the following symptoms.

9 other symptoms:

• Sudden extreme, unexplainable headache

• Difficulty swallowing or clearing the throat

• Sudden dizziness

• Sudden loss of balance or coordination and/or difficulty walking

• Sudden unexplainable nausea

• Profuse sweating – for no visible reason

• Being disoriented

• Sudden problems with vision

• Difficulty understanding speech OR difficulty finding the right words to speak

Important note: When experienced in isolation (all by itself), each of the above 9 signs do not necessarily indicate a stroke.  Yet, when a number of these signs are experienced suddenly together or in a short period of time  – it could definitely indicate a stroke.

In my husband Dave’s case, all of these 9 indicators happened quite suddenly, in quick succession – telling me that something was seriously wrong and that he needed immediate medical attention. At the time I did not realize he was having a stroke, but calling 9-1-1 as quick as I could was paramount. We are very thankful that he has since made a nearly full recovery. His only lingering residual effects are related to the throat and tongue muscles.

The bottom line

The take-away from this article is: DON’T WAIT!  Call 9-1-1 immediately for medical assistance if you have ANY reason to believe someone is having a stroke. Your quick action could either save their life or it could give them a very good chance at a full recovery.  The sooner a stroke is treated, the better the outcome.


Info Resources:

National Stroke Association


Copyright © 2017 Cathy Ormon – All Rights Reserved