August 16, 2022

Seconds count: Know the signs of a stroke

A Kaiser Permanente physician shares why quick detection and expert treatment are critical to preventing and treating strokes.

Strokes are most common among people over age 60, but they can happen at any age.

Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Every 3.5 minutes, someone dies of a stroke.

A stroke happens when a blood vessel in the brain is blocked or bursts. Knowing the health risks and signs can help you prevent, identify, and reduce the effects of a stroke.

“Brain damage can begin within minutes,” said Jeremy Fields, MD, regional stroke director and director of interventional neuroradiology for Kaiser Permanente in Oregon and Southwest Washington. “That’s why it’s so important to know the symptoms of stroke and to act fast. Quick treatment can help limit damage to the brain and increase the chance of a full recovery.”

Dr. Fields shares more about who’s at risk, how to identify the signs of a stroke, and steps you can take to decrease your risk.

What are some of the key symptoms of a stroke?

Symptoms of a stroke appear abruptly and without warning. A stroke may cause sudden weakness or numbness, trouble with vision or speaking, confusion, or a severe headache. If you or someone you know has these symptoms, even if they go away quickly, you should call 911 immediately.

What are the BE FAST stroke warning signs?

The acronym BE FAST is a simple way to remember the main symptoms and things you should do during a stroke.


Loss of balance or trouble walking


Trouble seeing out of one or both eyes


Drooping on one side of the face


Weakness or numbness in an arm or leg


Difficulty speaking


Time to call 911 if these symptoms are present

Who is at risk for stroke?

Strokes are most common among people over age 60, but they can happen at any age. Women have a higher lifetime risk of stroke and are more likely to die from stroke than men. Several races and ethnicities, including Black and Hispanics, also have a higher risk of stroke than non-Hispanic whites.

What increases your risk of having a stroke?

Certain medical and lifestyle factors put some people more at risk of having a stroke than others. For example, people who have health conditions such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or diabetes are at increased risk.

Behaviors you can manage or change that put you at greater risk include smoking, not eating healthy foods, not getting enough physical activity, and drinking too much alcohol.

What are some healthy lifestyle changes that may lower your risk of a stroke?

Strokes are the fourth-leading cause of death in the U.S. — but they’re often preventable. To reduce your risk of a stroke, you can:

  • Work with your doctor to manage any health problems you may have, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.
  • Don’t smoke. If you need help quitting, talk with your doctor.
  • Limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day.
  • Get active. Aim for 30 minutes per day — walking is a good choice.
  • Eat healthy foods, such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, beans, lean meat, fish, and whole grains.

Start your journey to a healthy lifestyle by making small changes, like adding an extra vegetable to a meal or taking a 15-minute walk after each meal.

What kind of care can you expect from Kaiser Permanente if you have a stroke?

When someone who’s likely had a stroke enters the emergency room, our team wraps around the patient — think a pit crew team in racing — and begins treatment immediately. At Kaiser Permanente, patients receive clot-busting medication more than twice as fast as the national average.

Our clinicians and staff work together to deliver excellent care that uses evidence-based treatment protocols — that means care based on high-quality scientific research. This ensures that each patient gets the right care as quickly as possible.

Learn more about strokes and how at Kaiser Permanente we are among the nation’s high performers in stroke treatment and care.