Strokes' subtle symptoms must be recognized quickly

A stroke’s typical warning signs often are so subtle that its victims don’t seek medical attention soon enough to receive effective treatment, a UT Southwestern Medical Center neurologist says.

Dr. Mark Goldberg, chairman of neurology and neurotherapeutics at UT Southwestern, says too few people recognize the symptoms of a stroke. As a result, just 5 percent of stroke victims receive an effective clot-busting drug called tPA, which the Food and Drug Administration recommends be administered within three hours of a stroke. Stroke is the fourth-leading cause of death in the U.S., killing more than 133,000 people annually. There are about 795,000 strokes reported nationally each year, and about 53 percent of those affected (425,000) are women.

“People must become more aware of the clinical symptoms of stroke so that they can seek treatment,” Dr. Goldberg says. “Educating Americans about strokes and stroke care is so important.”

Sudden problems with vision, walking, and speaking are stroke indicators, Dr. Goldberg says. So is sudden paralysis, droopiness, or numbness on one side of the face or body. Another potential symptom is a sudden, severe headache that can be accompanied by vomiting or dizziness.

The neurologist says most strokes don’t immediately render people unconscious, so many victims simply think they are tired and in need of a nap.

Stroke-victim advocates have developed the acronym FAST to describe both what should be done and the pace at which it should be undertaken. FAST stands for:

  • Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • Arms: Ask the person to raise their arms parallel to the ground. Does one arm drift down?
  • Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the speech slurred or gibberish?
  • Time: If any of these symptoms are present, call 911 immediately.

Visit for more information on UT Southwestern’s clinical services, including for strokes and other neurovascular disorders.

May is American Stroke Month.

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