Learn how to identify the signs of a stroke

More than 750,000 Americans have a stroke every year, and stroke is one of the leading causes of death and disability in this country.

That’s good reason to know the signs of stroke and what you should do if you think you or someone else is experiencing a stroke. “You lose about two million brain cells a minute during a stroke, so time is of the essence in recognizing a stroke and getting treatment,” explains Trevor Phinney, DO, who specializes in neurology at UPMC Hamot.

Learn more about stroke at UPMC Hamot, where we offer treatment 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

What Are the Signs of Stroke? | UPMC HealthBeat

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The 3 Types of Stroke

Although we tend to use the word “stroke” as an umbrella term, there are actually three types of stroke:

  • A transient ischemic attack (TIA) occurs when blood flow to the brain is temporarily blocked. Symptoms last for a short time and disappear without any damage to the brain. However, a TIA can be a warning sign for a future full-blown stroke. “About a third of patients who have a TIA will go on to have a major stroke,” says David Hutzel, MD, who specializes in internal medicine at UPMC Hamot.
  • An ischemic stroke occurs when there is a blocked blood vessel in the brain and blood flow is stopped, reducing oxygen to that part of the brain.
  • A hemorrhagic stroke happens when a blood vessel breaks and blood leaks or spills into the brain tissue, causing brain cells in the affected area to die. Hemorrhagic and ischemic strokes can lead to brain damage and disability and can sometimes be fatal.

Recognizing the Symptoms of Stroke

The symptoms of stroke can include the following:

  • Weakness or numbness on one side of the face, arm, or leg
  • Difficulty with speech
  • Difficulty understanding others
  • Loss of vision or difficulty seeing
  • Double vision
  • Difficulty with balance or coordination
  • Severe headache

If you think you could be having a stroke, or if you observe someone else who may be having a stroke, it’s important to seek medical attention. “Call 911 right away,” says Dr. Hutzel. “Don’t try to drive yourself or your loved one to the hospital.”

That’s because emergency medical technicians (EMTs) can provide potentially lifesaving care on the scene and in the ambulance. “EMTs can draw blood, insert IVs, take an EKG, and talk to doctors at the hospital so they’ll be ready for you,” Dr. Hutzel explains.

There’s another important reason to get immediate care at the first signs of stroke. Although your treatment options depend on your condition and the type of stroke, the sooner you receive treatment, the better.

“Many advanced therapies can restore blood flow and improve how well you will do after a stroke,” says Dr. Phinney. “These therapies include clot-dissolving drugs that can be given up to four and a half hours after the onset of your symptoms. We also have mechanical clot removal devices that can loosen and remove the clots from the arteries inside your brain as well as other treatments.”

Prevention: The Best Medicine

After acute stroke treatment, most people benefit from stroke rehabilitation. However, the best treatment for a stroke is to prevent it in the first place and to prevent strokes from recurring. “Some activities that may include regular exercise, not smoking, limiting alcohol intake, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating more fruits and vegetables,” says Dr. Phinney. It’s also a good idea to check your blood pressure regularly and talk with your doctor.

Learn more about stroke at UPMC Hamot, where we offer treatment 24 hours a day, seven days a week.


About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.