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How to detect if someone is having a stroke

May is Stroke Awareness Month and SEARHC is sharing information about what a stroke is and how to detect it, so it can be treated as quickly as possible. Like a heart attack, a stroke is a ‘brain attack,’ a severe health issue where oxygen and nutrients are not getting to the brain because blood vessels have burst or are being blocked by a clot. If left untreated, the lack of blood flow will eventually cause brain cells to die which can lead to permanent brain damage or death. According to the American Stroke Association, stroke is the #5 cause of death and the leading cause of disability in the U.S.

The most common sign of a stroke is a sudden weakness of the face and arm, especially on one side of the body. When someone is having a stroke, getting them medical attention as fast as possible is important in order to reduce the long-term effects. By committing the acronym F.A.S.T. to memory, you can quickly recognize the warning signs of someone having a stroke and can get them the help they need.

A series of X-ray scans of a human brain set side by side.

F.A.S.T. stands for the following:

  • Face Drooping
  • Arm Weakness
  • Speech Difficulty
  • Time

Face Drooping

If you notice that someone is having a stroke, ask them to smile, and look to see if one side of their face is drooping or if one side is numb and their smile is uneven.

Arm Weakness

Then ask the person to raise both their arms. Check to see if both arms have equal strength. During a stroke, one arm will drift downward or can’t be raised at all.

Speech Difficulty

People who are having a stoke will have slurred speech and trouble speaking. Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase and listen if you can clearly understand as they repeat it back.


If you or someone you know have any of the above symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately or take them to an emergency room. A stroke is a medical emergency and requires immediate treatment.

Other stroke warning signs include:

  • Sudden numbness of the leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion or understanding speech
  • Sudden vision problems in one or both eyes
  • Sudden dizziness or loss of balance
  • Sudden severe headache without any head injury

Remember, if you or someone else is experiencing any combination of the above symptoms, call 9-1-1 or go to the nearest emergency room. Don’t wait to see if the symptoms go away. The longer a stoke goes without treatment, the higher the risk of brain damage and disability. Stay tuned for more information about strokes from SEARHC during Stroke Awareness Month.

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The SEARHC Crisis Help Line, 1.877.294.0074, is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to residents of Southeast Alaska.