A stroke is a “brain attack”

“She had a stroke.”

Everyone has heard the term “stroke,” and they’re pretty clear that it’s a bad event.

But surprisingly few people actually know much about what it’s like to have a stroke. While they’re usually pretty good at calling 911 if someone is having chest pain due to a heart attack, they may not even notice when someone is having a stroke. They frequently don’t even notice it when they’re having a stroke themselves.

It’s not surprising, actually. A stroke is sudden brain injury due to blood clotting or bleeding inside the head. The brain does a lot of different things, so there are a lot of different types of strokes. And the brain itself doesn’t feel pain, so strokes usually don’t hurt (unless there is so much pressure from bleeding that the brain is swelling against the skull around it). Strokes often occur during sleep, so they’re already hours old when the victim wakes up. A stroke is a very quiet catastrophe.

However, some types of strokes are much more common than others. Because of the way the blood vessels to the brain are arranged, the majority of strokes involve weakness or loss of feeling of one side of the body, and they often cause problems speaking (with or without problems understanding language or even symbols).

Health officials and stroke specialists around the English-speaking world are teaching people to remember the acronym “FAST.” It stands for

* twisted/asymmetric face
* weak arm
* impaired speech
* means you have very little time to act

Once upon a time, there wasn’t much you could do about a stroke. But that’s all changed. Getting the proper treatment can often prevent some or all of the permanent brain damage. But treatment works best when given immediately. Minutes count.

A stroke is a “brain attack” and needs the same rapid response as a heart attack.  In future posts, we’ll talk about the FAST signs in more detail.