If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911 or seek care at an emergency room.
If you or someone you know experiences the first symptom of a stroke, it’s critical to take action quickly. An immediate call to 911 can mean the difference between life and death, so don’t wait. Stroke is a leading cause of death in the United States, as well as the number one cause of serious long-term disability.
To remember exactly what to do if you suspect a stroke—and to get help right away—use the download included with this blog post to create your personal BE FAST Stroke Checklist. The checklist includes essential information about what to do and gives you a place to record important information you’ll need to share with emergency medical personnel—so you don’t waste precious time.
Simply download the checklist, fill it out, and store it where you can access it quickly if needed.
To remember exactly what to do if you suspect a #stroke—and to get help right away—download this stroke checklist, suggests Dr. Yongwoo Kim. https://bit.ly/3fFUGxZ @MedStarWHC
Frequently, a stroke will happen without warning, but here are some main risk factors to be aware of:
- Being age 65 or older (nearly 75% of strokes occur in this age group, and risk increases with age)
- Having a history of previous stroke, transient ischemic attack (TIA), or heart attack
- Having health conditions including high blood pressure, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, high cholesterol, or other heart or vascular disease
- Smoking, drug use (particularly cocaine), lack of exercise, and/or excess weight
- Having a family history of stroke or ethnicity (African Americans and Native Americans are at higher risk than white, Hispanic, or Asian Americans)
Signs of a Stroke
If you or someone else suddenly displays any of these signs (even one), call 911 immediately.
Balance—Is there a sudden loss of balance or coordination? Is the person leaning to one side or staggering when walking?
Eyes—Is vision suddenly blurred, doubled, or otherwise impaired in one or both eyes?
Face—Is one side drooping or numb? Ask the person to smile to see if it’s uneven.
Arm—Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms to see if one drifts downward.
Speech—Is speech slurred or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, such as “The sky is blue.”
Time to call 911—Get immediate medical attention, even for one of these symptoms, and even if it/they go away. Do not drive to the emergency room.
Why Acting Fast Is So Important
Most strokes occur when the body produces a blood clot that travels and then lodges in one of the brain’s blood vessels. When a clot blocks the flow of blood, the affected brain tissue begins to die rapidly. Every second, millions of brain cells die. Within about 4.5 hours from the onset of that blockage, there will be no brain cells alive to save.
That’s why it’s so important to act quickly! You must get treatment—either intravenous medicine or surgery—to clear the blockage as soon as possible. As doctors, we say, “time is brain": every minute counts toward saving as many brain cells as possible.
To get proper treatment as fast as possible, always call 911 when you suspect a stroke. Emergency medical responders can assess you and alert the hospital of your stroke status, so the medical staff is prepared to act as soon as you arrive. And an ambulance can get you there most quickly. In a few cities today, ambulance workers are even equipped to perform some initial imaging while you’re headed to the hospital, helping to save even more precious time and brain cells.
Be Ready to Share the Following Information
For the 911 operator
- The word “stroke”: Be immediately clear that the affected person (you or someone you’re with) might be having a “stroke.” That insight will immediately tell the dispatcher what kind of help to send. Remember: 911 centers often handle more than medical emergencies.
- Your address, including cross streets or landmarks if it’s hard to find: Make it as easy as possible for an ambulance driver to find you.
For the emergency medical responders
- Details about the stroke symptom(s), including the time they started: The exact start time is key to helping doctors know what treatments may work best for the patient. If you’re not sure, tell the response team the last time things seemed normal (e.g., just before going to bed last night at 11 p.m.)
With the hospital medical team
- Current list of medicines, conditions, and details of recent surgeries or hospitalizations: Having this list handy can help emergency physicians more quickly determine how best to assess and treat the affected person
What to Do—and Not Do—While Waiting for Help
- Unlock the front door
- Secure any dogs or other pets that might get in the way
- Turn on an outside light by your front entrance
- Stay calm and by the affected person’s side
- Offer the affected person any food or drink
- Give the affected person any medicines, especially not aspirin. While most strokes are caused by blood clots, some are caused by a broken vessel that causes the brain to bleed. In that case, aspirin could be harmful.
How to Choose a Preferred Hospital Stroke Center for After-Stroke Care
When it comes to stroke, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. To identify causes of your stroke and to establish the best stroke prevention, make sure to choose a hospital recognized as a Comprehensive Stroke Center by The Joint Commission—a prestigious designation that MedStar Washington Hospital Center (along with several other U.S. hospitals) has earned for its focus on providing a high level of care for patients with the most severe and challenging types of strokes.
Do some research and ask your healthcare providers which stroke centers in your area have an established track record for high-quality, cutting-edge stroke care. You should also consider a hospital within your health insurance network.
Industry awards are another good indicator of quality. MedStar Washington Hospital Center has earned several of these, including a recent Gold Plus Quality Achievement Award and Target: Stroke Honor Roll from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association. Our center earned these special recognitions 1) for our exceptional speed in treating eligible patients with essential clot-busting therapies once they arrived and 2) for being one of the few stroke centers in the country to employ a dedicated brain MRI machine to more accurately assess incoming stroke patients and identify optimal treatments for them.
I invite you to learn more about our Comprehensive Stroke Center Program here.