Pay attention to a stroke's subtle warning signs

One of the biggest barriers to effectively treating stroke is that patients often don’t realize quickly enough that they are having one, says a neurologist at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Dr. Mehari Gebreyohanns says too few people recognize the symptoms of a stroke, in part because the warning signs can be so subtle that they don’t prompt immediate action. As a result, just 5 percent of stroke victims receive an effective clot-busting drug tested at UT Southwestern called tPA, which the Food and Drug Administration recommends be administered within three hours of a stroke.

“If you or someone around you is experiencing sudden problems with vision, walking, or speech, you need to seek immediate medical attention,” Dr. Gebreyohanns says. “Other stroke signs include sudden paralysis, droopiness, or numbness on one side of the face or body. Yet another potential symptom is a sudden, severe headache that can be accompanied by vomiting or dizziness.”

About 133,000 people in America die from a stroke every year, making it the nation’s fourth-leading cause of death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The acronym FAST is a helpful way to remember both what should be done and the pace at which it should be undertaken when it comes to stroke, Dr. Gebreyohanns says. 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.

At UT Southwestern, St. Paul University Hospital is a certified Primary Stroke Center, a designation for select hospitals that include acute stroke teams, stroke units, written care protocols, an integrated emergency response system, rapid laboratory testing, and the capability to administer and interpret CT scans around the clock.

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

May is American Stroke Month.

Media Contact: