What to Do (and Not Do) If Someone Is Having a Stroke

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Witnessing someone have a stroke can be a frightening experience. Because they can cause so much damage and lead to long-term disability or death, it's important that everyone know the symptoms and what to do in the case of a stroke.

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

Nurse helping women having a stroke

Juanmonino / Getty Images

Stroke Symptoms

Sudden changes or symptoms that might indicate a stroke include:

  • Numbness and weakness of the face, arms, or legs, especially on one side of the body
  • Confusing speech or trouble speaking
  • Difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
  • Difficulty walking, loss of balance, or coordination issues
  • Extreme headache with unknown cause

Types of Strokes

Strokes caused by a blood clot are called ischemic strokes, and those due to a brain bleed are called hemorrhagic strokes. Each year in the United States, 795,000 people have a stroke. Strokes can cause permanent brain damage, disability, and even death.

What to Do

If you suspect that someone is having a stroke, call 911 as soon as possible.

A helpful tool to identify if someone is having a stroke is the FAST set of warning signs, which include:

Stroke FAST Warning Signs

Verywell / Theresa Chiechi

  • “F” for face drooping: Does the person's face droop on one side, or does their smile look uneven?
  • “A” for arm weakness: Can the person raise and hold both arms out equally? Does one drift down?
  • “S” for speech difficulty: Is the person having difficulty speaking, including slurring their words, using nonsensical or garbled speech, or are they not able to speak at all?
  • “T” for time to call 911: If the answer is yes to any of these questions, call 911 immediately.

Think FAST With a Stroke

When calling 911, use the word "stroke" when speaking to the dispatcher to explain what is happening. Additional steps to take include:

  • Remember when the symptoms began, if possible: If you know or can remember, inform the paramedics when the symptoms began or if the patient has just woken up from a night of sleep. Having a time of symptom onset is helpful for healthcare providers to decide the best treatment options.
  • Track their symptoms: Be prepared to tell emergency personnel what the person's symptoms are.
  • Talk to the patient calmly: Assure them that help will be there soon.
  • Perform CPR, if needed: Check the person's pulse and make sure they are breathing.

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

What Not to Do

In the event of a stroke, there are also several things you should not do, including:

  • Don't drive them to the hospital: An ambulance can provide life-saving care more quickly and triage the patient on the way to the hospital so they can begin treatment immediately upon arrival.
  • Don't give medication: The type of stroke a person is having will determine what kind of medication they should receive. It's impossible to know that information without diagnostic imaging at the hospital.
  • Don't give the person food or drink: Strokes can cause a loss of muscle control in the face and neck and increase the risk of choking.

After a Stroke

It's essential to keep the home safe for people who are recovering from a stroke. Some of the difficulties that a stroke patient may have 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
  • A loss of bladder or bowel control

Managing these residual issues may require making changes in the home to ensure that stroke patients can move around as easily and safely as possible.

It's essential to follow your healthcare provider's recommendations about walking needs and potential limitations at home. Some of the changes may include:

  • Improve floor coverings, such as by removing rugs that are tripping hazards.
  • Allow more space for walking, and don't rely on furniture for walking.
  • Install railings.
  • Keep one walker upstairs and one downstairs.
  • Wear flat shoes.
  • Limit walking when distracted.
  • Use walkers and other assistive devices as prescribed.

An occupational therapist can help patients recovering from a stroke better manage daily activities and maintain as much independence as possible.


If you suspect that someone is having a stroke, call 911 immediately. The faster the person can get medical attention, the better their chance of recovery. Symptoms to look for include face drooping, arm or leg weakness, limb or face numbness, difficulty speaking, or severe headache with no known cause.

When you call 911, let the dispatcher know that the person has stroke symptoms, let medical personnel know when the stroke symptoms began, stay calm, and give CPR only if the person does not have a pulse or stops breathing.

A Word From Verywell

Watching someone experience stroke symptoms can be frightening. But it's crucial to act quickly to ensure the person has the best chance of recovery. If you or someone around you experiences stroke symptoms or any decline in neurological function, call 911 as soon as possible.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are the common warning signs of a stroke?

    Stroke signs to look for include sudden changes such as:

    • Numbness and weakness on the face, arms, or legs on one or both sides of the body
    • Confusing speech or trouble speaking
    • Difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
    • Difficulty walking, loss of balance, or coordination issues
    • Extreme headache with unknown cause
  • How can you prepare your home for a stroke?

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

    • Improving floor coverings, such as removing rugs, which are tripping hazards
    • Allowing more space for walking and don't rely on furniture for walking
    • Installing handrails
    • Keeping one walker upstairs and one downstairs
    • Wearing flat shoes
    • Limiting walking when distracted
    • Using walkers and other assistive devices as prescribed
5 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stroke signs and symptoms.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stroke facts.

  3. American Stroke Association. Stroke symptoms.

  4. UCI Health. Dos and don'ts if someone is having a stroke.

  5. American Stroke Association. Make your home work for you.

By Sarah Jividen, RN
Sarah Jividen, RN, BSN, is a freelance healthcare journalist and content marketing writer at Health Writing Solutions, LLC. She has over a decade of direct patient care experience working as a registered nurse specializing in neurotrauma, stroke, and the emergency room.