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Time is Brain: How to Recognize and Respond to a Stroke

Time is Brain: How to Recognize and Respond to a Stroke

With Sarasota Memorial Emergency Medicine Physician Marshall Frank, DO, MPH, FAEMS

According to the Centers for Disease Control, someone in the US suffers a stroke every 40 seconds. And every three minutes, someone dies of a stroke. In 2018, this amounted to nearly 1 of every 19 deaths in all of the United States. In 2021, this amounted to 1 of every 6 deaths due to cardiovascular disease. And even when a stroke is not fatal, it is still a leading case of long-term disability. However, being able to recognize a stroke and act quickly can make all the difference. “Time is of the essence,” says Dr. Frank. “During a heart attack, we say ‘Time is muscle.’ A stroke is a ‘brain attack’ and time is brain.”

What is a Stroke?

A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain or a portion of the brain is blocked or reduced. Without proper blood flow, the brain does not get the oxygen that it needs and brain damage or death can quickly follow.

Generally speaking, this can happen in one of two ways:

  • An ischemic stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked, such as by a clot.
  • A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, disrupting necessary blood flow.

But determining what kind of stroke has occurred is up to the doctor. For everyone else, being able to identify when someone is having a stroke—and knowing what you can do to help—could be all you need to help save a life.

Prevent Stroke, Know your ABCS


According to the CDC, nearly 80% of strokes are preventable—a statistic both disturbing and encouraging—and folks can reduce their risk of stroke by paying attention to their ABCS.

Aspirin: A natural blood-thinner, aspirin use could be beneficial in reducing risk of a stroke. But definitely speak with your doctor before starting an aspirin regimen, as it can make other conditions worse.

Blood Pressure: Healthy diet and effective stress management can help control blood pressure, reducing risk of stroke. Also be sure to take any blood pressure medications as directed.

Cholesterol: Healthy diet and exercise are crucial to maintaining healthy cholesterol levels, which is crucial to managing stroke risk.

Smoking: Cigarettes and tobacco are terrible for cardiovascular health and increase your risk of stroke. Don’t start and quit if you have.


Signs & Symptoms of a Stroke

The first step in being able to help someone who is having a stroke is being able to identify someone having a stroke.

To help recognize the most common signs of a stroke, remember to be F.A.S.T.

  • F = Face drooping
    Does one side of the person’s face seem to droop? Ask them to smile. Is the smile lopsided or uneven?
  • A = Arm weakness
    Is one arm weak or numb? Ask them to raise both arms in the air. Does one arm drift downward?
  • S = Speech difficulty
    Are they having trouble speaking clearly? Ask them to repeat a simple sentence. Is their speech slurred?
  • T = Time to call 911
    If the person is exhibiting any of these symptoms and there is the chance they are experiencing a stroke, call 911 immediately.

NOTE: After calling 911, write down the time that symptoms were first noticed, as this could be important for healthcare professionals later.

Additional symptoms to look out for include:

  • Sudden dizziness, loss of balance or difficulty walking
  • Vision troubles in one or both eyes
  • Sudden intense headache with no cause
  • Sudden numbness in face, arms or legs
  • Sudden confusion

There is no such thing as a small or mild stroke. If you suspect a stroke has occurred, do not hesitate to contact emergency services.

How You Can Help

The most important thing that you can do if you think someone might be having a stroke is to call 911 and notify emergency services immediately. This could very well save the person’s life. When a comprehensive stroke center such as Sarasota Memorial Hospital is notified of a stroke patient, it sets into motion a chain reaction designed to give that patient the most efficient care possible and the best chance at a positive outcome. Emergency physicians and stroke neurologists will be waiting for the ambulance to arrive and imaging diagnostics occur within the first 10 minutes of the patient’s arrival, identifying the problem and enabling directed treatment to begin.

“We can’t emphasize enough how critical it is to get care fast,” says Dr. Frank. “The sooner they get treatment, the less brain they’ll lose.”

More Resources

Follow these links to learn more:

Also check the SMH Calendar for info on the monthly Stroke Wellness Club and the monthly Stroke Support Group. Call (941) 917-4156 or (941) 917-3890 for more information.

And click here to learn more about what makes Sarasota Memorial Hospital a Comprehensive Stroke Center, and what that means for our community.

Posted: May 30, 2023,
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