How to Identify the Signs of a Stroke

Stroke Symptoms

A stroke is a serious medical emergency that requires immediate attention. Acting quickly is the single most important aspect of stroke care, and decisive action can mean the difference between life and death. Every year, thousands of people die preventable deaths from strokes that could have been treated successfully is medical attention had been sought in a timely manner.

Because time is of the essence, knowing the signs of a stroke are important. This is especially true for the elderly who are at an increased risk of stroke but who often do not have the mobility or awareness to act quickly. The burden, then, often rests on family and loved ones to notice the signs of stroke and seek help.

Here is an introduction to the telltale signs of stroke and how to correctly identify them.

What Causes a Stroke?

A stroke occurs when the blood supply is cut off to the brain, resulting in a loss of oxygen to a part of the organ. The portion of the brain that is affected then stops working properly, resulting in impaired motor function seen by the physical symptoms explained below.

Who is at Risk of a Stroke?

As we mentioned before, the elderly are at an increased risk of stroke. In addition, several factors predict the likelihood of stroke, including high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and smoking. Cardiovascular conditions like arrhythmia (abnormal rhythm) of the heart are risk factors as well.

There is a genetic component to strokes, so people with a family history of strokes should be especially aware of the warning signs explained below.


FAST is the widely used acronym for helping caregivers and those at risk to identify the symptoms of a stroke so that immediate action can be taken. Here is the breakdown that each letter stands for.

  • Face Drooping: If you suspect a loved one is having a stroke, ask them to smile. When they do, look carefully at each side of their face. Is one side drooping while the other moves into a smiling position? If so, a stroke may be occurring.
  • Arm Weakness: Again, as the person to lift both their arms at the same time. Does one lift more slowly than the other or drift downward while the person struggles to raise it? This is another sign of a stroke.
  • Speech Difficulty: Is the person slurring their words? Are their normal speech patterns interrupted?
  • Time to Call 9-1-1: If you notice one or more of the previous signs, then it is time to seek help. Remember that time is of the essence, so don’t waste any in getting the help that your loved one needs. It may save their life. Call 9-1-1 or, if you can’t reach the phone and your loved one has a Medical Alert system, push the help button to speak to an operator.

How Do I Know if a Stroke is Happening for Sure?

Diagnosing a stroke definitively from a glance is impossible. Even trained doctors cannot rule out other health events with a visual inspection. Blood tests and imaging tests like MRI are needed to confirm a stroke. Never assume anything – it is better to be safe than sorry. If you see any of the warning signs described in FAST, seek help immediately.

Medical Alert systems can save lives in the event that someone experiences a stroke but is unable to seek help on their own. If the stroke victim can push their button, emergency assistance will be dispatched even if they can’t speak to the operator. In addition, with fall detection an operator can be contacted immediately if your loved one collapses as a result of the stroke.