A stroke is another term for a blood clot that becomes dislodged within or travels to the brain, cutting off blood flow to specific areas of the brain beyond the clot. Strokes can cause physical and cognitive disability, including issues with walking, arm movement, speech, and memory. The sooner a stroke is identified and treatment has begun, the better chance of making a full recovery and minimizing the damage done to the body by this vascular event.
What are the signs of a stroke?
To remember how to identify a stroke, think of the acronym FAST.
F – Face. Ask the person to smile – one side of the face drooping can be a sign of a stroke.
A – Arm. Can the person raise both arms? If one arm droops to the side, this is an indicator of a stroke occurring. As the signals from the brain cross the body (left side of the brain controls the right side of the body, and vice versa) the side of the brain affected by the stroke will be the opposite of the affected limb.
S – Speech. Slurred speech can indicate a stroke.
T – Time. If ANY of these symptoms are present, it is time to call 911 and inform them that you believe the person is having a stroke, or go to the nearest hospital for treatment.
At the hospital, the person experiencing stroke symptoms will be assessed—a physical examination will be done and blood tests will likely be drawn, followed by one or a combination of the following: CT scan, MRI, ultrasound of neck blood vessels, and/or cerebral (brain) angiogram – these tests all help to visualize the presence of a blood clot or essentially see a stroke in the brain. An echocardiogram (heart ultrasound) to see if blood clots from the heart may have broken loose and caused the brain blood clot (stroke). 
How is a stroke treated?
Once the blood clot (most commonly – other times a brain hemmorhage—bleed—is the cause of a stroke) is identified, treatment to destroy or remove the clot causing the ischemic stroke can begin. This is done with medication to break up the clot, but sometimes surgery may also take place for the clot to be removed – a catheter is inserted into a blood vessel and weaved into grab and remove the clot from the brain, guided by medical imaging. [1.1].
In the other type of stroke, a hemorrhagic stroke, this means the brain is essentially bleeding from within. This is most often caused by blood vessel abnormalities or being on blood thinner medications, like Coumadin, warfarin, or Plavix. Stroke caused by blood thinners is one reason it is important to wear a blood thinner medical ID, such as a coumadin medical ID bracelet or a warfarin medical necklace. Clearly identifying that you are taking these medicines allows emergency department doctors to more quickly identify the potential cause of your stroke, and treat it quickly. In the event of a hemorrhagic stroke, blood thinners will be stopped and medicine will be given; sometimes brain surgery may need to be done to repair the area. Medicines to prevent seizures or reduce pressure in the brain caused by bleeding will be given, and once the immediate risk is decreased, supportive care will be given as the body “re-absorbs” the blood in the brain. [1.1] Again, surgery may be required for repair. [1.1]
Most of us are aware of the work that goes into recovering from a stroke. Physical, occupational, speech, and psychotherapy may all be components of stroke recovery. Some people will fully recover from their stroke, others will not. With rehabilitation, most people will improve and regain function that was lost because of the stroke.
Remember, the more quickly the stroke is caught and treated, the better the outcomes usually are. Recovery and rehabilitation plans are individualized to each person’s needs.
May is Stroke Awareness Month. Know the signs of a stroke, and what to do, and you could save a life by getting the person the care they need. If you know someone who has had a stroke, encourage them to wear medical ID jewelry communicating their medical history. This also goes for someone who is at risk of a stroke (such as those on blood thinners or anyone on medicines that may increase the risk of a blood clot): encourage them to wear medical ID jewelry noting the medication they are taking, such as a warfarin bracelet or coumadin medical necklace, so that they can be treated as rapidly as possible.