Female hand against wall with shadow

My Personal PSA: Know the Symptoms of Stroke

There aren’t too many things that I am scared of, but having a stroke is one of them. I know the symptoms that should be sending me to the nearest ER: numbness, weakness, severe headache, or difficulty speaking or seeing. In this case, I’m not waiting for the symptoms to subside, I’m going.

Stroke is the No. 5 cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States. Each year, 10% to 15% of the nearly 795,000 people in the U.S. who have a stroke are young adults —between ages 18 and 45. Recent studies suggest stroke incidence is declining in the general population, yet, stroke incidence and hospitalizations have increased by more than 40% in young adults in the past several decades.

This makes the news that nearly 30% of people younger than 45 do not know the symptoms of stroke, according to research published today in Stroke. Not everyone is as hypersensitive to this potential cardiovascular event.

And the thing about this is that stroke symptom knowledge and why it is important hasn’t improved since I first wrote about this in 2016.

Back then an UCLA survey of 1,009 adults found that most 18 to 45 year olds said they would delay going to the hospital.

“Timely treatment for stroke is probably more important than for almost any other medical problem there is,” David Liebeskind, MD, professor of neurology, director of outpatient stroke and neurovascular programs and director of the Neurovascular Imaging Research Core at Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center told me then. “There is a very limited window in which to start treatment because the brain is very sensitive to a lack of blood flow or to bleeding, and the longer patients wait, the more devastating the consequences.”

“Treatment starts with recognition,” Dr. Libeskind says. “The time window to reverse stroke is 3 hours after the first symptom presents itself.” Too bad the latest research revealed:

  • Almost one in three (28.9%) respondents were not aware of all five common stroke symptoms.
  • About 3% of respondents, representing nearly 3 million young adults, were not aware of any stroke symptom.

So let’s help solve this right now. Commit the acronym FAST to memory:

Face drooping 

Arm weakness or 

Speech difficulty, it’s 

Time to call 9-1-1

These are the signs of stroke and, if you see anyone — no matter his or her age — exhibiting them, get medical attention quickly. Do not be one of the nearly 3% of young adults surveyed would not contact emergency medical services if they did see someone experiencing perceived stroke symptoms.

“That finding could be a matter of life and death,” Mitchell S. V. Elkind, M.D., M.S., FAHA, FAAN, president of the American Heart Association said in a prepared statement.

“With proper, timely medical attention, stroke is largely treatable. The faster you are treated, the more likely you are to minimize the long-term effects of a stroke and even prevent death,” said Elkind, professor of neurology and epidemiology at Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and attending neurologist at New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City. “Calling 9-1-1 is critical because trained EMS personnel can start the care protocol en route to the hospital and have specialized teams standing by, ready at the hospital to administer the most appropriate treatment immediately.” Hopefully you nor me will see or experience these symptoms either in ourselves or others. If you do, no matter what, call 9-1-1. It cannot be said enough.

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