Stroke Awareness Month: Know the Signs


Stroke Awareness Month: a doctor with a stethoscope around her neck and a heart cut-out in her chest pocket.With May being Stroke Awareness Month, let’s cover the basics. It just may help you save a life someday — yours or someone else’s.

What Is a Stroke?

In addition to being the 5th leading cause of death, strokes are a common cause of disability in the United States, according to the American Stroke Association (ASA).

Although older adults are at greater risk, people of any age can experience a stroke. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that 38% of those hospitalized for a stroke in 2014 were under the age of 65 years old.

ASA’s website explains, A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts (or ruptures). When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood (and oxygen) it needs, so it and brain cells die.”

3 Kinds of Strokes

  1. Ischemic: when a clot prevents blood from reaching the brain
  2. Hemorrhagic: when a weakened blood vessel bursts and causes bleeding in the brain
  3. Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) or mini-stroke: when blood flow is blocked by a temporary clot

Think of it like an analogy question on a test . . .

Ischemic : Clot :: Hemorrhagic : Bleed

Ischemic strokes make up 87% of all strokes. Hemorrhagic strokes are less common but especially dangerous with rapidly developing symptoms.

Although a TIA is temporary, it should be taken seriously as a warning sign of a possible impending stroke.

Know the Signs to Save a Life

It’s important to recognize the symptoms and respond quickly to someone experiencing a stroke. The longer a stroke goes unrecognized, the worse the outcome is for its sufferer.

F.A.S.T. Response

The ASA developed a useful acronym to help people remember the concerning signs and symptoms of a stroke: F.A.S.T.

F: Face Drooping (Does one side of the person’s face droop? Have them smile — is it uneven?)

A: Arm Weakness (Is one arm weaker than the other? Have them raise both arms — is one drifting lower?)

S: Speech Difficulty (Is speech slurred? Have them repeat a sentence — does it sound garbled or unclear?)

T: Time to Call 911 (Strokes are time-sensitive. The faster you call for help, the better.)

Other Signs of Stroke

Not all strokes present the same. In addition to the F.A.S.T. signs, a person having a stroke may exhibit sudden:

  • confusion
  • trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • one-sided numbness of the face, arm, or leg
  • severe headache with no apparent cause
  • difficulty walking
  • loss of balance and coordination

Stroke Prevention

As with many other diseases, healthy living may help to prevent a stroke by targeting controllable risk factors. The ASA encourages eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels, exercising regularly, getting adequate sleep, and not smoking. If you do smoke — quit!

Stroke Awareness Month: a bowl of fruit surrounded by other healthy foods.Diabetes, hypertension, atrial fibrillation, sickle cell disease, carotid artery disease, and obesity are all conditions that are associated with stroke risk. However, that risk can be decreased through lifestyle improvements and with the help of prescribed medications.

Risk factors that are outside a person’s control include gender, race, age, family history, and a previous cardiovascular event (heart attack, stroke, or TIA). Black people, women, and older adults are at higher risk. Acknowledge these intrinsic risk factors and keep up with your routine medical check-ups.

Remember, act F.A.S.T. if you think someone is having a stroke.

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Jenna Arsenault
Jenna is a Maine native who moved to Charleston in 2006, moved away for a while, then moved back again in 2018. She just couldn’t stay away from this city that feels like home! She’d choose palm trees over pine trees any day of the week. Jenna and her husband of 14 years have two rambunctious sons, ages 11 & 8, and live in Mount Pleasant. A social worker, registered nurse, and postpartum doula by trade, she is passionate about maternal mental health and is currently writing a book on the subject. Jenna loves to read, kayak, paint in watercolor, and travel with her family. Visit her personal blog on all things motherhood at


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