Best Way to Survive a Stroke

10 surprising stroke warning signs, plus what to do to save someone's life—or your own.

By Beth Levine

On February 13, 2011, CBS-TV reporter Serene Branson shocked Grammy Award viewers when she appeared to experience a stroke (the interruption of blood flow to the brain) on air. After Branson began to speak gibberish, paramedics on the scene checked her out and released her. She had a colleague drive her home.

Fortunately, it reportedly turned out to be a complex migraine – because if it had been a stroke, “she did exactly the wrong thing by waiting and then going home. She should have gone straight to a hospital. Time saved is brain saved,” says Larry B. Goldstein, MD, spokesperson for the American Stroke Association, and director, Duke Stroke Center, Durham, NC. He adds that even though the paramedics “cleared her,” she still should have gone to the hospital immediately. (To be fair, the paramedics may have recommended that but they can’t force someone.)

Stroke is the No. 4 cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States, according to the American Stroke Association (ASA). There are two kinds of strokes: ischemic, which accounts for 87% and happens when a blood clot stops up a brain blood vessel or artery to the brain; and hemorrhagic, which is caused when a brain blood vessel breaks and results in bleeding inside or over the brain.

Major symptoms:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, or trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or coordination
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

Less frequent symptoms (but occur often in women):

  • Sudden onset of nausea, and vomiting
  • Brief loss of consciousness or fainting, confusion or convulsions
  • Sudden hiccups
  • Sudden face and limb pain
  • Sudden shortness of breath and chest pain

3 Easy Tests to Assess Symptoms:

  1. Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  2. Ask the person to raise his arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  3. Ask the person to say a simple sentence. Watch for garbled words and slurred speech.

If you think you or someone with you is having a stroke, here’s what to do:

  • Call 9-1-1 right away. Do not “wait and see” if the symptoms subside. The sooner the patient gets medical attention, the better the outcome. “If you have a choice, wait for the paramedics rather than driving the patient yourself. Patients who are transported by EMS are evaluated much quicker than people who are driven in,” says Dr. Goldstein. (And, of course, do not drive if you are the one with the possible stroke!)
  • Call even if symptoms disappear. In a transient ischemic attack (TIA), symptoms usually only last a few minutes but it is a warning that a major stroke may be coming. “The best way to treat a stroke is to never have it to begin with. This is an opportunity to try to prevent one,” says Dr. Goldstein.
  • Note the time when symptoms appeared and let the paramedics know. There are time frames after which certain drugs can’t be used.
  • Do not give the patient aspirin. “A stroke is a brain event, not a heart attack,” explains Dr. Goldstein. “You can’t tell what kind of stroke the person is having. If it’s hemorrhagic, aspirin will make the brain bleed worse.”

There’s an app for that! Download the American Stroke Association’s free “Spot a Stroke FAST” app to your iPhone or iPad (Android version available here) -- it lists stroke symptoms and locates appropriate hospitals. It’s good to have around as a reminder in a crisis. 



I am 56 years old, and had a few episodes of what I'm wondering now were TIA's. One person here spoke of their lips buzzing. My ears seem to go nearly deaf, and my lips tingle, and just feel numb. I also have fibro and RSD, which can complicate things when drs' just pass if off as a side effect which it might be (or stress, though I'm so tired of some drs using the "stress" excuse,) I'm going to download the app, and look into this alot more since maybe 56 isn't too young. Thanks for the info. Blessings. :)

Nancies on 2013-02-20 15:00:01

I knew something was wrong when I couldn't get my words out and my lips were buzzing.My hero googled the symptoms came back to me and I then told him I was having a terrible headache , which is rare for me. I am 57 I do not smokeI have a drink maybe once every few months.I cannot exercise due to being disabled . My bottom line question is how long does the tiredness last? It has been almost 6 weeks and I sleep about 18 hours a day! I just cannot pull myself out of bed. Any comments are welcome that are positive. I feel like I am not alive although I thank god every day that I am. Thank you for this article it was quite timely for me on 2013-02-13 11:55:53

we're still not sure what happened with my mom but they were treating her like she'd had a stroke
because of the 1st of the 3 easy tests above to test symptoms that she couldn't pass because she'd had Bell's Palsy years before and was one of those who never recovered having residual facial drooping, with my older father being so shook up that he didn't remember to tell the hospital ER about it; it wasn't until my uncle got there that they were told and were quite upset and having treated her for stroke; I don't blame them but I wish I'd had something on her telling (if they would have looked) or some kind of system (actually now I know about all kinds of medical - bracelets, ID buttons with links to websites with your medical info though I don't know that she would have worn or used any of that) I'd like for there to be something at the hospital they could look up, maybe; maybe that's too much invasion of privacy, guess I just wish something

lizasnan on 2013-02-12 23:30:08

yes, quick medical attention is essential. i suffered a hemorrhagic stroke 16 years ago at 46 years old. my husband's quick action saved me as he drove me straight to the emergency room as I was acting clueless and I couldn't get my eyes to focus. I only suffer from fatigue caused by lesions from the bleeding, otherwise, I 'm ok. so,, tough to deal with at times but as I age, my afternoon nap is an easy problem to deal with. I was instructed never to take aspirin as it could cause my brain to leak. arrgh. who wants a leaky brain after all? on 2013-02-12 21:18:49

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