What to do if someone has a stroke (and what not to do)

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel supplying the brain ruptures or becomes blocked, depriving the brain of the oxygen it needs to function properly. Without oxygen, the brain can be damaged and even die. Witnessing someone having a stroke can be frightening, but it’s important that everyone knows what to do when they have a stroke.

This article discusses what you should know about stroke, including warning signs, what to do and what not to do if someone has a stroke.

stroke symptoms

Sudden changes or symptoms that may indicate a stroke include:

  • Numbness and weakness of the face, arms, or legs, especially on one side of the body
  • Confusion or difficulty speaking
  • Can’t see clearly in one or both eyes
  • Difficulty walking, loss of balance, or coordination problems
  • Unexplained extreme headache

stroke type

A stroke caused by a blood clot is called an ischemic stroke, and a stroke caused by a cerebral hemorrhage is called a hemorrhagic stroke. In the United States, 795,000 people have a stroke each year. Stroke can cause permanent brain damage, disability, and even death.

what to do

If you suspect someone has had a stroke, call 911 as soon as possible.

A useful tool for identifying if someone has had a stroke is the FAST group warning signs, which include:

  • The “F” stands for droopy face: Is the person’s face drooping on one side, or does their smile look uneven?
  • “A” with weak arms: Can this person lift and extend both arms equally? Will one float down?
  • “S” for speech difficulties: Does the person have difficulty speaking, including slurring, using absurd or garbled characters, or are they unable to speak at all?
  • “T” indicates when to call 911: If the answer to any of these questions is yes, call 911 immediately.

When calling 911, use the word “stroke” when talking to the dispatcher to explain what is going on. Additional steps to take include:

  • If possible, remember when symptoms started: If you know or remember, notify the caregiver when symptoms start or when the patient has just woken up from a night of sleep. Having symptoms for a while helps healthcare providers decide the best course of treatment.
  • Track their symptoms: Be prepared to tell first responders what the person’s symptoms are.
  • Talk to the patient calmly: Reassure them that it will help soon.
  • If needed, perform CPR: Check the patient’s pulse and make sure they are breathing.

When paramedics arrive, communicate as clearly as possible the events leading up to and including the patient’s stroke symptoms.

10 signs of stroke risk

what not to do

There are a few more things you should not do if you have a stroke, including:

  • Don’t drive them to the hospital: Ambulances can deliver life-saving care faster and triage patients on their way to the hospital so they can begin treatment as soon as they arrive.
  • No medication: The type of stroke a person has will determine what medication they should receive. It would be impossible to know this information without diagnostic imaging performed in the hospital.
  • Do not give the patient food or drink: Stroke can cause loss of control of the muscles of the face and neck and increase the risk of suffocation.

How a Stroke Causes Brain Damage

after stroke

For people recovering from a stroke, keeping their homes safe is critical. Some of the difficulties a stroke patient may encounter include:

  • Weakness or numbness on one or both sides of the body
  • Paralysis on one or both sides of the body
  • poor balance and coordination
  • memory loss
  • fatigue
  • loss of bladder or bowel control

Managing these legacy issues may require changes at home to ensure stroke sufferers can move around as easily and safely as possible.

It is important to follow your healthcare provider’s advice on walking needs and potential restrictions at home. Some changes may include:

  • Improve floor coverings, such as removing tripping hazard rugs.
  • Leave more room for walking and don’t rely on furniture to walk.
  • Install railings.
  • Put one walker upstairs and one downstairs.
  • Wear flat shoes.
  • Limit walking when distracted.
  • Use walkers and other assistive devices as prescribed.

Occupational therapists can help patients recovering from a stroke to better manage daily activities and remain as independent as possible.


If you suspect someone has had a stroke, call 911 immediately. The sooner people get medical care, the better their chances of recovery. Symptoms to look for include drooping of the face, weakness in the arms or legs, numbness in the limbs or face, difficulty speaking, or severe headaches of unknown origin.

When you call 911, let the dispatcher know that the person has stroke symptoms, let the medical staff know when the stroke symptoms started, stay calm, and only perform CPR if the person has no pulse or is not breathing.

VigorTip words

Watching someone experience stroke symptoms can be frightening. But the key is to act quickly to ensure the person has the best chance of recovery. Call 911 as soon as possible if you or someone around you is experiencing symptoms of stroke or decreased neurological function.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the common warning signs of a stroke?

    Signs of stroke to look for include sudden changes such as:

    • Numbness and weakness in the face, arms, or legs on one or both sides of the body
    • Confusion or difficulty speaking
    • Can’t see clearly in one or both eyes
    • Difficulty walking, loss of balance, or coordination problems
    • Unexplained extreme headache
  • How can you prepare for a stroke?

    Some of the changes you can make at home after a stroke are:

    • Improve floor coverings, such as removing carpets, which are a trip hazard
    • Leave more space for walking and walk without relying on furniture
    • Install the handrail
    • Keep a walker upstairs and a walker downstairs
    • wear flat shoes
    • Limit walking when distracted
    • Use walkers and other assistive devices as prescribed