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The NINDS conducts stroke research and clinical trials at its laboratories and clinics at the NIH, and through grants to major medical institutions across the country.

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Video Transcript

Weakness on one Side. Trouble Speaking. Trouble Seeing. Trouble Walking.

Know Stroke, Know the Signs, Act in Time.

Announcer: Most people know what to do in the case of a medical emergency.... call 911... call 911... but don't know that stroke is a medical emergency. "Stroke? I don't know."

What you need to do is get to a hospital as quickly as possible. Every minute counts.

When her husband Robert had a stroke, Alma Shanley knew just what to do.

Alma Shanley: "He sat down in the chair and he kept staring at me and I thought he was fooling around with me at first, and I said to him this is not funny Robert."

Robert Shanley: "I could not speak. All I knew, she was my wife and I reached over and took her hand and I couldn't remember the names of my grandchildren or my daughters. It was a complete blank."

Alma Shanley: "And I said to him;you're having a stroke, stay here, I'm calling an ambulance"

Announcer: A stroke, sometimes called a brain attack, occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted. That can happen if a blood vessel breaks or gets blocked by a clot.

When someone has a stroke brain cells in the immediate area begin to die because they stop getting the oxygen and nutrients they need.

Dr. John Marler, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: "Somehow, we have to get the hopeful message out that there is something you can do, it's not hopeless. And I think 4 or 5 years ago that was pretty much true, but now it's changed vastly. And the change is that now you can do something."

Announcer: In the past, people often struggled to live with serious disabilities after a stroke.

But they don't have to accept those limitations now. Today, people have a much better chance for a complete recovery.

Effective treatment is available for strokes caused by a blood clot and that's about 80% of all strokes.

Alma Shanley: "He made it to the hospital, I would say, in probably 25 minutes from when he left here, and six days later, he walked out of the hospital and I think that's a miracle, I really do."

Dr Marler: "We've been able to develop a drug, TPA, which you can inject in a vein, goes through the body but it knows where the clot is, it goes and locks on to that clot and dissolves it. And the blood starts flowing again."

Announcer: New treatments can limit the disability caused by a stroke, but you need to know the signs and act in time.

Here are the signs to look for in yourself or those around you:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding,
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

If you experience any of these symptoms, you need to get to a hospital right away, even if they go away quickly it may still be a stroke.

Dr. Audrey Penn, National Institutes of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: "Stroke is really a block or a break in a blood vessel in the brain. If it is on a specific side of the brain, usually that's the left side of the brain - then people will have a great deal of trouble either saying things or understanding things or both."

Dr. Steven Warach, NIH Stroke Center at Suburban Hospital: "When someone has a sudden loss of function they should not delay, call 911 and get to the hospital. It's that type of a medical emergency, where you don't have time to call your doctor's office, you don't have time to discuss it with a friend, the patient, or more properly the person with the patient, call 911, get to the hospital."

Announcer: Because stroke injures the brain, the person having one might not realize it. In this demonstration, other people recognize the signs of a stroke and call 911.

[Young woman at the park watching as her mom pushes her daughter on the swing set, woman's face becomes very concerned and she rushes towards the camera...]:

"Mom? Mom? What's the matter with your mouth? Mom, can you hear... "

[Man's voice]:

"What happened?"

[Young woman]:

"I don't know. She just suddenly stopped."

[Man's voice]:

"I'm calling 911."

Announcer: An alert family member or bystander can be a real hero.

[Man on a cell phone]:

"An elderly woman; she can't talk, I think she's having a stroke."

Dr. Marler: "It's really worth the effort it takes to dial 911. It's hard to decide to do that, you're not always sure exactly what's going on, but it is really worth it. It's going to pay back in terms of going home and living your life.

Dr. Warach: "They have to get there early to get the best treatment. They need to be examined by the doctors. They need brain scans, like C.A.T. scans, to know what the best therapy is."

Dr. Marler: "A big picture is turned out. It shows all the details of your brain and it makes it very obvious whether there's bleeding or not in your brain."

Announcer: It also helps to know if you or those you care about are at risk for stroke. Take Sylvia Saxon for example, despite high blood pressure, diabetes and a family history, her stroke came as a surprise.

Sylvia Saxon: "When my foot went to sleep, I hadn't thought it could be a stroke. I thought it was just, when you're sitting down or laying down like you do and your foot goes to sleep. I did not really connect it to the signs of stroke."

Announcer: If you have:

  • High blood pressure, you're 4 to 6 times more likely to have a stroke.
  • Heart disease and a heart condition known as atrial fibrillation can double your risk of stroke.
  • Smoking, your risk also increases if you smoke
  • Or have diabetes, sickle cell disease, high cholesteral, or a family history of stroke.

Dr. Galen Henderson, Harvard Medical School, Brigham and Women's Hospital: "Strokes are preventable, they can be prevented, they can also be treated. Years ago, we couldn't do that, now we can. We want people to be aware of their body, know those numbers, their blood pressure, their glucose, their cholesterol, all of that's important."

Sylvia Saxon: "It's so Important to just watch my health, in every way - try to watch my weight, try to keep the pressure down, it's just so important to try to stay healthy so you won't have another stroke."

Announcer: Stroke touches so many American families. It's the 3rd leading cause of death and a leading cause of serious long-term disability. But today there is effective treatment that can prevent or reduce those disabilities. The key is - Know the Signs, Act in Time. If you think someone is having a stroke, if they suddenly lose the ability to speak or the ability to move their arm or leg on one side, or if they have weakness on one side, don't wait, call 911 immediately.

You can have your life back after a stroke if you know the signs and act in time.

Alma Shanley: "We can go on with our life, we can enjoy our life, we can enjoy our children, our grandchildren."

Mr. Saxon: "It means that Grandpop is going to be around. That mom's going to be there to enjoy Christmas with you, all of those things that make life worthwhile, simply because we all understood and acted on the signs of a stroke."

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke - A component of the National Institutes of Health

For more information about stroke, please call 1-800-352-9424 or visit

Technical Consultants:

  • Dr. John Marler, Associate Director, Clinical Trials, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
  • Dr. Joseph Broderick, Professor and Chairman, Neurology, University of Cincinnati College of Medicine

Special Thanks to:

  • The Shanley Family
  • The Saxon Family
  • Ruth Junious
  • Dr. Marian LaMonte, Director, Brain Attack Team, University of Maryland Medical Center
  • Suburban Hospital
  • University of Maryland Medical Center
  • University of Maryland School of Medicine

Know Stroke: Know the Signs. Act in Time.