What to Do If Someone Is Having a Stroke

Ask yourself this question: If a friend or parent were to have a stroke tomorrow, would you know what to do?

Knowing what to do when someone suffers a stroke could make the difference between a short or lengthy recovery — and may even be a matter of life or death.

Because a person can suffer from a stroke at any age, it is critical that you know how to react if someone begins showing signs of a stroke.

How to Identify the Signs of a Stroke

When someone is having a stroke, they show distinct symptoms, such as sudden dizziness, trouble balancing, numbness on one side of the body, and difficulty speaking.

Other symptoms can include a severe headache and blurred vision. Not everyone experiences the same symptoms, though, so it is important to know all the signs of a stroke to get help.

Learn more about the UPMC Stroke Institute.

Doctors have developed a checklist using the acronym “F.A.S.T.” to help determine if someone is having or about to have a stroke. F.A.S.T. stands for:

  • Face– Is their face drooping on one side?
  • Arms– Do they have difficulty raising both arms?
  • Speech– Is their speech slurred? Are they unable to repeat simple phrases?
  • Time– If you can answer yes to any of the above questions, call 911 as soon as possible.

During a stroke, immediate care is critical. Even if you are unsure of a person’s symptoms, don’t wait to see if they go away on their own. Seek medical care immediately. By waiting too long to seek help during a stroke, some symptoms — such as partial paralysis or difficulty speaking — can become permanent.

Take These Steps If You Believe Someone Is Having a Stroke

Step 1: Call 911

Before you do anything to help the person having a stroke, call 911. For a person suffering from a stroke, every minute is valuable. The sooner he or she receives treatment for the stroke, the fewer long-term problems they will have.

Step 2: Note the Beginning of Symptoms

After calling 911, write down what time he or she began showing symptoms of a stroke. This information will help emergency responders and the doctors determine appropriate treatment once the person arrives at a hospital or stroke center.

Step 3: Do Not Leave the Person Alone

Do not leave anyone having a stroke alone, especially if he or she is having difficulty balancing. There is a higher risk of falling or injuring oneself further when suffering from a stroke. Find a safe place for the person to lie down and keep the head raised.

Step 4: If Necessary, Perform CPR

In the event the person becomes unconscious, first check to see if he or she is breathing. If not, begin CPR until breathing resumes or emergency responders arrive.

Getting Treatment for Stroke

Because strokes develop suddenly, it is important for anyone experiencing a stroke to find immediate treatment. The longer it takes to see a doctor, the more permanent the side-effects of a stroke can become. If you believe someone is having a stroke, call 911 immediately.

Specialized stroke centers, like the Advanced Primary Stroke Centers at UPMC, can quickly treat people having a stroke.

From the moment a patient enters a primary stroke center, a team of specialists is on hand to rapidly determine the best course of treatment. Treatment is provided on an individual basis and differs based on the needs of each stroke patient.