Can You Name the Warning Signs of Stroke? Think FAST!

Blog Post

Stephen W. Farrell, PhD, FACSM
The Cooper Team
Healthy Aging
February 15, 2022

Stroke is a form of cardiovascular disease that affects the arteries of the brain. There are two broad categories of stroke. Ischemic strokes occur when an artery bringing oxygen and nutrients to the brain is blocked by blood clots, while hemorrhagic strokes occur when an artery in the brain leaks blood or bursts. While ischemic strokes are more common than hemorrhagic strokes, the latter is more deadly than the former. Many people assume that strokes only occur in older individuals, however this is not the case. In fact, approximately 25% of strokes happen in people under the age of 65! Here are some facts and figures regarding stroke that might be of interest:

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 795,000 strokes occur annually in the United States. Ischemic strokes account for about 87% of all strokes, while hemorrhagic strokes account for about 13%. In addition to being the leading cause of long-term disability, stroke also causes about 150,000 deaths each year in the U.S. Annual health care costs related to stroke are nearly $50 billion.

Oftentimes, the person having the stroke is unaware of what is occurring. To compound this situation, many people are unaware of the warning signs of a stroke. This is the major reason why only about 10% of all stroke victims obtain the best treatment available. It is not uncommon for several hours to elapse from the time the stroke occurs until the victim arrives in the emergency room. Half of all the damage caused by stroke occurs within the first 90 minutes, while 90% of the damage occurs during the first three hours.

The Warning Signs of Stroke Include the Following:

  • Sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm, or leg on one side of the body
  • Sudden dimness or loss of vision, particularly in one eye
  • Loss of speech, trouble talking or understanding speech
  • Mental confusion; sudden loss of consciousness
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause  
  • Unexplained dizziness or sudden falls

Only ~80% of the U.S. population is able to identify just one of these warning signs of stroke. So, it should be obvious at this point that the degree of disability and the number of deaths from stroke could be markedly reduced if the public was better able to recognize the warning signs and acted accordingly (i.e. call 911 right away).

Because it is difficult for the average person to commit all of these warning signs of stroke to memory, an easy to remember acronym that helps to recognize a stroke was developed several years ago. The acronym is FAST, which is widely endorsed by organizations such as the CDC, American Heart Association, American Stroke Association, and the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Here’s how it works:

F is for face. Look for an uneven face, e.g., drooping on one side. Ask the person to smile.

A is for arms. Ask the person to raise both arms fully at the same time.

S is for speech. If you notice that the person is having difficulty speaking clearly, ask them to repeat a phrase.

T is for time. If any of the above are occurring, call 911 right away!

Once you have learned the FAST acronym, tell your family and friends about it.

Risk Factors and Stroke Prevention

Risk factors are behaviors or characteristics that increase the likelihood of disease. While some risk factors cannot be changed, others can be changed by lifestyle modification or medication. Among the risk factors for stroke that cannot be changed are age, sex, family history of stroke, ethnicity, previous stroke, previous heart attack, and low birth weight. However, there are many other risk factors for stroke that can be significantly improved by lifestyle modification and/or medication. These include:

  • Physical inactivity
  • Hypertension
  • Tobacco use  
  • Poor Diet
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Obesity
  • Presence of coronary heart disease
  • Abnormal blood cholesterol level
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Diabetes
  • Use of recreational drugs such as cocaine or amphetamines
  • Carotid artery blockages
  • Depression  
  • Chronic inflammation
  • Sleep apnea
  • Kidney disease


American Heart Association. 2022 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistical Update

American Stroke Association.

Centers for Disease Control.


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