Ideally, if someone has a stroke they need to get emergency treatment within 90 minutes of the first symptoms. But many people are not aware of stroke symptoms and are unable to identify when a stroke is occurring.

Could you recognize if you or someone around you was having a stroke?

Here are some scenarios to help you understand and recognize stroke symptoms.

  1. Carol is a 36-year-old healthy woman. She wakes up one morning feeling groggy, with clammy hands. She feels a little dizzy and has pins and needles in her legs. A few hours pass and these symptoms go away. Are these symptoms early signals of a stroke?

    Yes, Carol's symptoms could indicate a stroke called a transient ischemic attack (TIA). Call 911. Although sometimes described as a "mini" or "light stroke," they should not be taken lightly. A TIA is a warning sign that you could have a more severe stroke in the near future. 28 percent of people who suffer a stroke are under age 65. Among women under 45, stroke is more common than heart attack.

  2. Julius, a 70-year-old man with a history of high cholesterol and smoking, has a pounding headache, begins having slurred speech, and his vision becomes blurred. What steps should Julius take?

    Call 911. Julius is displaying stroke warning signs and has three factors that increase his risk of stroke: age, smoking habit and cholesterol level. Stroke risk doubles every decade over age 55. High cholesterol can cause arteries to narrow and decrease blood flow to the brain, increasing the risk of stroke. Tobacco use causes blood vessels to narrow, which can increase blood pressure and, in turn, stroke risk.

  3. Sixty-five-year-old Claire suddenly starts shaking and convulsing in her office and her heart rate becomes extremely elevated. Is Claire having a stroke?

    No, sudden body movement, shaking and convulsing are not typical stroke symptoms. However, Claire may be having a seizure, so prompt medical attention is required, and an unexplained seizure could mean she is at an increased risk for stroke in the future.

  4. Twelve-year-old Tim is outside playing basketball. After some hard knocks, he tells his friends he cannot feel his arm, that it is “heavy” and he has no control over it. What do they do?

    Call 911. Although strokes are not common in children, it's important to realize that there are certain types of strokes that occur in younger patients. Tearing, or dissection, of an artery is the leading cause of stroke in young people. It can result from sudden twisting or trauma to the neck or head, which then closes off blood supply to parts of the brain.

Note: People of all ages, including children, have strokes. But the older you are, the greater your risk for stroke.

Why timing matters

When a stroke occurs, the key is to clear the artery blockage before the affected part of the brain has been without blood for too long. If the stroke is caused by hemorrhaging or bleeding in the brain, which is less common, more invasive treatments are usually required.

Identify stroke

Ask the person to do the following three tasks:

  • Smile
  • Raise both arms
  • Speak a simple sentence

If he or she has trouble with any of these, immediately call 911. If an individual can complete these tasks but displays other symptoms, they may still require emergency attention.

You should not try to diagnose the problem yourself, or wait to see if symptoms go away, and you should never hesitate to call 911 if you suspect a stroke.