Stroke Warning Signs

It happened so fast. Sharon Brooks, co-owner of the trendy but now-defunct Hamburger Mary’s restaurant in San Francisco, was ringing out the cash register and trying to reach her son’s girlfriend on the phone. But when the young woman answered, all that came out of Brooks’ mouth was gibberish.

“I tried to talk and couldn’t. I went into the bathroom and felt my left side tingling,” says Brooks, who was only 51 when this happened. “I knew the signs of a stroke. But I looked at my pupils and they were equal.” Then she went out front, sat down next to one of her employees and recovered her speech long enough to say, ” ‘Call 911. I think I’m having a stroke.’

“Then my left side went out,” she says, “and I fell off the chair.”

Clearly, Brooks wasn’t given much warning that a stroke was on the way. And, even when confronted with some classic symptoms, she was inclined not to believe it was really happening. But all of us should learn to recognize and heed the harbingers of a stroke. Every minute counts when blood flow to the brain is interrupted. The most common kind of stroke can be treated with a clot-dissolving drug, but treatment must start within three hours to be most effective.

If my loved one appears to be in trouble, how do I know if he or she is having a stroke?

The Stroke Association uses the acronyms F-A-S-T and 9-1-1:

  • F, for Face Drooping: Is the face number or drooping on one side? Ask the person to smile and see if one side of the mouth turns down.

  • A, for Arm Weakness. Ask the person to raise both arms: Does one drift down?

  • S, for Speech Difficulty. Is the speech hard to understand? Ask them to repeat “The sky is blue.” Is there any difficulty doing that?

  • T, for Time to Call 9-1-1. If your loved one shows ANY of these symptoms, call 911 immediately.

I’m feeling dizzy. What are the warning signs of a stroke?

Here are the key warning signs, according to the American Stroke Association: