According to the American Stroke Association, strokes are the fifth most common cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States.

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts (or ruptures). When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood (and oxygen) it needs, so it and brain cells die.

When a stroke strikes, every second counts. Strokes are always a medical emergency. The longer it goes untreated, the greater the chance of lasting damage. Learn to recognize the signs of stroke using the letters F-A-S-T:

F – Face Drooping

A – Arm Weakness

S – Speech

T – Time to call 911

  • Face Drooping – Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven or lopsided? Does one side of the face droop or is it numb?
  • Arm Weakness – Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward? Is one arm weak or numb?
  • Speech – Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “my cat is white.” Can they repeat the sentence correctly? Is it slurred, are they unable to speak, or are they hard to understand?
  • Time to call 911 – If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get them to the hospital immediately.

Some other signs and symptoms of a stroke to be on the lookout for are sudden confusion, trouble walking or dizziness, trouble seeing, or sudden severe headache with no known cause.

While there are some risk factors you cannot control such as your age, family history, race and gender, there are some Stroke Risk Factors You Can Control, Treat and Improve.

Up to 80 percent of strokes are preventable. Acting quickly is the most important thing you can do for a stroke victim. Even if you aren’t sure it’s a stroke, call 911–it’s better to be safe than sorry!