Why fast action is key when suffering a stroke

Stroke expert Shyam Prabhakaran, MD, MS with a male stroke patient in a doctors office
Shyam Prabhakaran, MD, sees post-stroke a patient for in clinic for a follow up.

Every 40 seconds, a person in the United States suffers a stroke, making it the fifth-leading cause of death. However, these life-threatening, medical emergencies are preventable and can be treated. It’s important to be aware of stroke risk factors and symptoms to stay healthy and minimize risks.

Recognize stroke symptoms and B.E.F.A.S.T.:

B — Balance. Is there a change in balance or gait?

E — Eye. Is there double vision or vision loss?

F — Face Drooping. Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person's smile uneven or lopsided?

A — Arm weakness. Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S — Speech difficulty. Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like, "The sky is blue." Is the person able to correctly repeat the words?

T — Time to call 911. If someone shows any of these symptoms, even temporarily, call 911 for help.

A stroke occurs when blood supply to the brain is interrupted or reduced. While there are three main types of strokes that can occur, nearly 87% of them are categorized as ischemic stroke – those caused by blocked or narrowed arteries that severely reduce blood flow. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when blood vessels in the brain leak or rupture. And a transient ischemic attack, or a ministroke, is due to a temporary decrease in blood to the brain. While strokes often lead to serious long-term disability, a transient ischemic attack typically does not create permanent damage.

There are a number of lifestyle and medical factors that can cause a stroke. The leading causes include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes

Americans are at high risk for stroke, with 1 in 3 adults having at least one of the leading causes. Other factors include:

In Chicago, we know that stroke hits hardest in the African American and Latinx communities. An important way to prevent stroke is to improve blood pressure control, exercise and eating habits, especially in high-risk groups.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of having a first stroke is nearly twice as high for Blacks as it is for whites. And while death rates from stroke have declined among all races, African Americans continue to have the highest rate of death due to stroke. Meanwhile, Hispanics have seen an increase in death rates due to stroke since 2013.

When seeking treatment, the faster one can receive medical treatment, the better the outcome. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the following symptoms:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, legs or arms (usually one-sided)
  • Confusion or trouble speaking or understanding others
  • Severe headache – the worst of your life

The signs and symptoms of a stroke can vary from person to person. The symptoms can also evolve from one symptom to another in the same patient. When feeling or witnessing the signs of a stroke, it is important to act quickly, and call 911 even if the symptoms are temporary.

The University of Chicago Medicine has two nationally recognized stroke centers, including our Joint Commission-certified Comprehensive Stroke Center in Hyde Park. Our Stroke Center provides comprehensive, individualized care that will help patients recover and achieve the best quality of life possible after suffering a stroke.

The cornerstone of being a Comprehensive Stroke Center is a dedication to evidence-based medicine and advanced treatment options for the most complex patients.

Our experts are involved in a wide range of stroke research projects — from studying new medicines for stroke prevention to developing advanced surgical procedures to improve blood flow to the brain after stroke.

Shyam Prabhakaran, MD

Shyam Prabhakaran, MD, MS

Shyam Prabhakaran, MD, is the Chair of the Department of Neurology at UChicago Medicine. He is an internationally recognized leader in vascular neurology and stroke research and treatment, and has led projects focused on uncovering the underlying causes of recurrent strokes, improving stroke care, and optimizing patient outcomes and recovery.

Learn more about Dr. Prabhakaran

Stroke Center

The University of Chicago Medicine is a Joint Commission Certified Comprehensive Stroke Center, nationally recognized for its expertise in providing the highest level of care for stroke patients.

Learn more about our stroke and neurovascular services