In a stroke emergency, brain cells die because they’re not getting enough oxygen-rich blood. But in many cases, getting quick treatment may save your life and lower your chances of being disabled.

Knowing the signs

Being aware of the warning signs may help prevent devastating the effects of a stroke. Here’s an easy way to remember the most common stroke warning signs using the acronym F.A.S.T.: 

F: Face drooping

A: Arm weakness

S: Speech difficulty

T: Time to call 9-1-1. If a person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 immediately to get them to a hospital for treatment.

Knowing the cause

Up to 80 percent of first strokes may be caused by risk factors you can control, such as uncontrolled blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

However, some strokes are caused by genetic conditions that you can’t control, like sickle cell disease, or physical abnormalities, such as a patent foramen ovale or a hole in the heart.

Sometimes the doctor can’t determine the cause, labeling the stroke “cryptogenic,” which simply means the cause is unknown. If that happens, urge your doctors to work together to check every possible cause because knowing the cause of the stroke can help prevent another one.

Possible causes include:

  • Atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib. This irregular heartbeat can be difficult to detect but may be found by monitoring the heart’s rhythm over time with either a holter monitor, mobile continuous outpatient telemetry monitor or insertable cardiac monitor.
     
  • Patent foramen ovale is a hole between the heart’s chambers that usually closes over time after birth. When it doesn’t, a blood clot can travel through the hole to the brain, causing a stroke.
     
  • Large artery atherosclerosis involves plaque in large arteries. When it breaks off, it can block arteries to the brain.

Even with risk factors you can’t control, there are still ways to reduce your stroke risk.

Making healthy choices — like being physically active, eating well and not smoking — is a good start. Talk to your healthcare provider about what you can do to better manage your conditions and reduce your risk. And remember, what’s good for your heart, is good for your brain.