Experts have developed the FAST (Face, Arms, Speech, Time) mnemonic device to highlight some of the more obvious signs of a brain attack. A more detailed list includes:
- Face drooping. One side of the face goes slack. A smile appears uneven.
- One arm is weak. When raising both arms, one arm drifts downward.
- Numbness. Loss of feeling on one side of the body, or one part of the body, such as the face, an arm, or a leg.
- Speech difficulties. Inability to find words or understand what is spoken, or slurring of speech.
- Sudden vision trouble. Blurred vision, double vision, or loss of vision in one eye.
- Sudden dizziness, loss of balance, or sudden and severe headache can also be warning signs.
Many people fail to act on a warning signal called a transient ischemic attack (TIA), which is a small stroke that lasts minutes to hours and goes away on its own. People who experience a TIA may be tempted to avoid or delay a trip to a hospital's emergency department, but that's a dangerous decision. "We really discourage people from the wait and watch approach if they have any symptoms that suggest a stroke," says Dr. Shruti Sonni, a neurologist at Harvard-affiliated Cambridge Health Alliance. "A TIA is a warning sign. It says you are at risk for something worse to happen."
Prompt treatment can stave off the immediate danger of a full-blown stroke. After that, it's time to do everything possible to prevent a stroke. Top self-help steps include quitting smoking, exercising more, losing weight if needed, and adopting a healthier diet.
Read the full-length article: "Don't brush off signs of a brain attack"
Also in the December 2013 issue of the Harvard Men's Health Watch:
- Is extra-virgin olive oil really healthier?
- Hidden signs of depression in men
- Chronic heartburn: When do you need extra tests?
- New gene tests promise smarter prostate cancer screening
The Harvard Men's Health Watch is available from Harvard Health Publications, the publishing division of Harvard Medical School, for $20 per year. Subscribe at www.health.harvard.edu/mens or by calling 877-649-9457 (toll-free).
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