Recognizing the five sudden symptoms of stroke could save a person’s life, even a young life, according to an expert from the Stroke Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death among Americans, and about 795,000 people are affected by stroke each year in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Stroke is also the main cause of adult disability. Unfortunately, the elderly are no longer the only people affected by stroke. Close to 20% of strokes occur in people younger than age 55.

A report from 2011 showed that the rate of stroke among children, teens and young adults in the US has been rising at an alarming rate. The average age for stroke has declined from 71 to 59 over the past 10 years.

Patrick D. Lyden, MD, chair of Neurology and director of the Stroke Program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, said:

“The good news, is that quickly recognizing the signs of stroke and seeking immediate medical care from stroke specialists can minimize the effects of the disease or even save a life. And just as important as knowing the symptoms is the knowledge that regardless of an individual’s age, those symptoms need to be treated as the emergency that they are.”

The “Five Sudden, Severe Symptoms” of stroke include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg on one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion, difficulty talking or understanding.
  • Sudden trouble seeing on one side.
  • Sudden, severe difficulty walking, dizziness, loss of coordination or balance.
  • Sudden, severe headache for no known reason.

If any one of these five symptoms are recognized, call 911 immediately, regardless of the age of the victim, Lyden cautioned.

It is also critical to stress the words “sudden” and severe” and the number “one”. Any of these symptoms can occur in a mild way, lasting for only a short time, and not be anything to worry about.

However, if any of the symptoms occur suddenly and is rather severe, it could indicate the start of a stroke – which is increasingly called a “brain attack”. In order to improve the patient’s chances of not becoming permanently disabled, developing a heart attack or even dying, immediate treatment is crucial.

Approximately two-thirds of stroke survivors have some disability, according to the National Stroke Association.

In certain cases, when a stroke is in progress, it is possible to stop it with “clot-busting” drugs, and even reverse the damage.

A study presented at the American Stroke Association’s International Stroke Conference 2010 showed that clot-busting treatment should be considered for patients last seen healthy within a few hours before having a stroke. If the drug is taken within 3 hours of onset, the outcome improves by 30%.

The facilities, staff, and resources needed to provide complete care for every stroke patient are not found at every hospital or stroke center.

However, several hospitals and health officials are working together to set up regional stroke-treatment networks to help make sure that even the most complicated cases are quickly brought to a center that has the level of care that they need.

“Still, no amount of readiness can make a difference unless someone recognizes the symptoms and calls 911,” Lyden concluded.

Written by Sarah Glynn