A stroke occurs when blood flow to your brain is interrupted, causing your brain cells to shut down, as they do not have the necessary oxygen and nutrients to function. Strokes are the third leading cause of death in the US and the UK and result in 10% of deaths worldwide. It is important that you know how to recognize the signs of a stroke, especially if someone you know is at risk of having a stroke. Treatment is available to minimize the damage caused by stroke, but the person must be taken to a hospital within one hour of the appearance of the symptoms. 
Part 1 of 2: Recognizing the Symptoms of a Stroke
1Understand the difference between a stroke and a mini-stroke. There are two major types of strokes: an ischemic stroke, which is caused by a blood clot in your brain, and a hemorrhagic stroke, caused by a blood vessel in your brain that breaks and bleeds into the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes are rarer than ischemic strokes, as only about 20 percent of strokes are hemorrhagic. Both types of strokes are serious and can be life threatening if the person is not treated as soon as possible.
- Mini-strokes, also called transient ischemic attacks (ITA), occur when your brain gets less blood than normal and can last from a few minutes up to a day. Many people who experience mini strokes do not even realize they have a stroke, but mini strokes can be a warning sign of a full stroke. If someone experiences a mini-stroke, they should receive medical attention right away.
2Look for two or more symptoms of a stroke. Most people suffering from a stroke will exhibit two or more of the most common symptoms of a stroke, including:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg on one side of their body.
- Sudden difficulty seeing out of one or both eyes.
- Sudden difficulty walking, as well as dizziness and loss of balance.
- Sudden confusion and difficulty talking or understanding someone talking to them.
- Sudden bad headache with no clear cause.
3Do the F.A.S.T test. It can be difficult for someone suffering from a stroke to describe or explain their symptoms. To confirm the person is having a stroke, you can do a quick test, called the F.A.S.T. test:
- Face – Ask the person to smile. Check if one side of their face droops or appears numb. Their smile may appear uneven or lopsided on one side of their face.
- Arms – Ask the person to raise both arms. If they cannot lift their arms, or if one arm drifts downward, they are likely suffering from a stroke.
- Speech – Ask the person a simple question, like their name or their age. Note if their words are slurred when they respond to you or if they have difficulty forming words.
- Time – If the person displays any of these symptoms, it is time to call 911. You should also check the time to confirm when the person’s symptoms first appeared, as the medical staff will use this information to better care for the person.
Part 2 of 2: Getting Medical Attention for the Stroke Victim
1Call 911 for medical help as soon as possible. Once you confirm the person is having a stroke, you need to take immediate action and call 911. You should then tell the dispatcher that the person is having a stroke and requires immediate medical attention. A stroke is considered a medical emergency, as the longer blood flow is cut off to the brain, the greater the damage to the brain.
2Allow the doctor to do tests and a check up. Once you get the stroke victim to a hospital, the doctor will ask the person questions, such as what happened and when they first started experiencing symptoms. These questions will help the doctor determine if the person is thinking clearly and how severe the stroke is. The doctor will also test the person’s reflexes and order several test, including:
- Imaging tests: These tests will provide a clear picture of the person’s brain, including CAT scans and MRI scanning. They will help the doctor determine if the stroke was caused by a blockage or by bleeding in the brain.
- Electrical tests: These tests will record the electrical impulses and the sensory processes of the brain.
- Blood flow tests: These tests will show any changes to blood flow to the brain that may be occurring.
3Discuss treatment options with the doctor. Most strokes can be treated with a drug called t-PA, which dissolves blood clots that are obstructing blood flow to the brain. However, the window of opportunity for treatment is three hours. It is essential that the person get to a hospital within 60 minutes of the stroke to be evaluated and receive treatment.
- A recent study by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Strokes (NINDS) found that some stroke patients who received t-PA within three hours of the beginning of their stroke symptoms were 30 percent more likely to recover with little to no disability after three months.