10 Things Doctors Want You to Know About Stroke

  • Young female doctor comforting patient in clinic
    You are in control.
    Stroke—which occurs when a blood vessel that supplies blood to the brain becomes blocked, or a blood vessel in the brain bursts—has a scary reputation. And for good reason: Stroke is the no. 5 killer of Americans and a leading cause of disability. But you are not powerless against stroke. Doctors weigh in on what you need to know about stroke and how to take control.


  • Symptom: Confusion or Slurred Speech
    1. Know the symptoms.
    First things first: When talking about stroke, every doctor stresses the importance of recognizing the signs of stroke and acting on them. Try this test: If you think someone is having a stroke, ask him to smile. Does one side of the face droop? Have him raise both arms. Does one drift downward? Give him a simple phrase to repeat. Is his speech slurred or strange? If you notice any of these signs, don’t delay— call 911.
     

  • Rear view of young businessman and woman chatting whilst walking down stairway, London, UK
    2. “It can happen to anyone.”
    Think stroke is only an older person’s disease? Although the risk of stroke increases with age, anyone—even infants and children—can experience a stroke. “Many people dismiss symptoms because they think they’re too young for a stroke,” explains Rani Whitfield, MD, family medicine physician. “But the truth is, you’re not. Be prepared and seek help immediately if you suspect one.”


  • Man outdoors holding shoulder in pain
    3. “Waiting is the worst thing to do.”
    When you delay seeking treatment, more brain cells die. “Some people dismiss symptoms like numbness in the arm or slurred speech to being tired or sleeping in a funny position,” says Grahame Gould, MD, vascular neurosurgeon. “Even if you’re not sure it’s a stroke, call 911. I’d rather patients come in and be wrong than wait to make sure. By then, it may be too late.”


  • Senior man having a stroke
    4. “Step in to help someone else.”
    See a friend or family member acting strangely? Think it could be signs of a stroke? Take action. “Because stroke affects the brain, it can rob people of the ability to recognize that anything is wrong. This is true even if a person is experiencing a major stroke,” says Dr. Gould. “Usually, it’s up to others—not the stroke victim—to get help.”
     

  • Needles One Milliliter
    5. “Stroke is treatable.”
    It is possible to treat stroke, but timing is critical. “We now have clot-busting medications (drugs that dissolve blood clots) and surgical interventions to treat and sometimes reverse the harmful effects of stroke. However, treatments work best if administered within the first several hours following a stroke,” explains Thomas J. Grobelny, MD, interventional neuroradiologist and neurosurgeon. “Very effective interventional treatment options are becoming available that extend the treatment window. But the sooner you seek care, the better off you will be.”
     

  • Doctor examining patient
    6. “Strokes don’t hurt.”
    “With a heart attack, patients may feel crushing chest pain or an impending sense of doom. That doesn’t happen with a stroke. In fact, stroke typically causes no pain,” explains Dr. Gould. “Just because you aren’t hurting doesn’t mean the stroke isn’t doing real damage.”


  • Senior patient suffering from headache with doctors at medical office
    7. “Don’t ignore temporary symptoms.”
    A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a mini stroke. Symptoms are the same as a stroke but are temporary—most go away within minutes or hours. “Call 911 immediately if you have symptoms of a stroke. Just because they go away doesn’t mean you’re OK,” says Dr. Grobelny. “A TIA is a red flag that a permanent stroke could happen soon. If you seek help, we have ways to help prevent it.” 


  • Senior man does swallowing exercises at home
    8. “With hard work, you can make strides in recovery.”
    Rehabilitation therapy helps stroke survivors regain function they’ve lost. But to make the most gains, patients need to be willing to work. “It’s important the brain gets pushed,” says physiatrist Kathleen Bell, MD. “A few hours a week in therapy is not enough. It’s up to the patient to continue working on his or her own. What happens outside of therapy sessions is what leads to real change.”


  • Apraxia speech therapy session
    9. “Recovery doesn’t just happen in the hospital.”
    It’s true that substantial functional gains are made in the days and weeks after a stroke. But stroke recovery can continue for months or even years. “Don’t give up,” says Dr. Bell. “You can continue to improve for quite some time after stroke. Rehabilitation is like training for the Olympics. It takes ongoing effort.” 
     

  • Doctor measuring blood pressure
    10. “Stroke is preventable.”
    Avoiding stroke is not about being lucky. “Up to 80% of strokes are preventable,” explains Dr. Whitfield. Lower your risk by keeping your blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control, managing diabetes, exercising, and not smoking. “The same steps that prevent a first stroke also help prevent recurrent stroke. It’s never too late to start,” he says.


10 Things Doctors Want You to Know About Stroke | Healthgrades
Contributors
  • Kathleen Bell, MD

    Chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center; president of the American Academy of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation; and co-director of the Texas Institute for Brain Injury and Repair

    View My Profile on Healthgrades
  • Grahame Gould, MD

    Assistant professor of neurosurgery at State University of New York (SUNY) Upstate Medical Center, Dr. Gould is a dual-trained vascular neurosurgeon.

  • Thomas J. Grobelny, MD
    Medical director of Advocate Health System’s Neurovascular Center in Chicago. Dr. Grobelny is involved in clinical trials and new technologies to treat brain aneurysms and strokes.
    View My Profile on Healthgrades
  • Rani Whitfield, MD

    Family medicine physician with a private practice in Baton Rouge, LA. He is known for his appearances on BET’s television show “106 & Park,” and has been featured as an expert on other television and news programs and documentaries.

    View My Profile on Healthgrades

About The Author

  1. Stroke signs and symptoms. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/Stroke/signs_symptoms.htm 
  2. TIA (transient ischemic attack). American Heart Association. http://www.strokeassociation.org/STROKEORG/AboutStroke/TIA-Transient-Ischemic-Attack_UCM_310942_Arti...
  3. What is stroke? National Stroke Foundation. http://www.stroke.org/understand-stroke/what-stroke
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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Sep 1
THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.