Stroke – Signs and Symptoms

Stroke affects people differently depending on several factors. Deacons should be able to recognize the signs that a church member is having a stroke…

Stroke becomes a greater risk as people age. In many church congregations, there is a significant percentage of elderly members who are at greater risk of stroke. But it is not limited to the elderly.


According to the Mayo Clinic:

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of your brain is interrupted or reduced, preventing brain tissue from getting oxygen and nutrients. Brain cells begin to die in minutes.

A stroke is a medical emergency, and prompt treatment is crucial. Early action can reduce brain damage and other complications.

This is similar to the definition given by the American Stroke Association:

Stroke is a disease that affects the arteries leading to and within the brain. It is the No. 5 cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States.

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts (or ruptures). When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood (and oxygen) it needs, so it and brain cells die.


Technically, stroke is caused by a blocked artery to the brain or a leaking or burst blood vessel. Both can temporarily or permanently impair brain function. “A stroke occurs when one of these arteries to the brain is either blocked or bursts. As a result, part of the brain does not get the blood it needs, so it starts to die.”

Anyone can have a stroke, but risk generally increases with age and according to certain risk factors. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) lists conditions that increase risk for stroke:

  • Whether a person has already had a stroke or “mini-stroke” (see below for more details on the “TIA”)
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes
  • Sickle-cell disease, most common in black and Hispanic children

The CDC also provides a list of behaviors that increase risk of stroke:

  • Unhealthy diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity
  • Too much alchohol
  • Tobacco use

Finally, the CDC provides a set of factors related to family history and genetics that also increase stroke risk:

  • Family history of stroke.
  • Age – The risk of having a stroke doubles every 10 years after age 55, but young people aged 15 to 49 can also have strokes if they are obese or have high blood pressure or diabetes.
  • It is more common in women than men.
  • Ethnicity – The CDC reports that “Blacks, Hispanics, American Indians, and Alaska Natives may be more likely to have a stroke than non-Hispanic whites or Asians. The risk of having a first stroke is nearly twice as high for blacks as for whites. Blacks are also more likely to die from stroke than whites are.”


The American Stroke Association (ASA) provides a simple, easily remembered methodology for identifying a stroke victim: F.A.S.T

  • FACE drooping
  • ARM Weakness
  • SPEECH difficulty
  • TIME to call 911

Every deacon should be versed in this simple method to spot a stroke victim in their congregation. By acting immediately, you may be able to save their life.

These signs are echoed by the Internet Stroke Center:

The most common sign of stroke is sudden weakness of the face, arm or leg, most often on one side of the body.

The American Stroke Association lists several other symptoms to be aware of:

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

The ASA warns that “If someone shows any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1 or emergency medical services immediately.”

There is a reason for this. There are special kinds of strokes of short duration whose affects don’t appear to be permanent. People call them “mini strokes,” but they should really be called “warning strokes.” They should be taken seriously:

A Transient Ischemic Attack [TIA] is often called a mini-stroke, but it’s really a major warning. TIA is a temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain. Since it doesn’t cause permanent damage, it’s often ignored. But this is a big mistake. TIAs may signal a full-blown stroke ahead. When you first notice symptoms, get help immediately.

. . . .

TIAs are often called “mini-strokes,” because their immediate consequences are fairly harmless. But “warning stroke” is a better label, because a TIA usually foreshadows a full-blown stroke. TIAs are caused by a clot or blockage in the brain. The blockage is short term. The clot usually dissolves on its own or gets dislodged, and symptoms usually last less than five minutes.

The statistics tell part of the story:

A TIA happens before about 15 percent of all strokes.
Up to 25 percent of people who suffer a TIA die within one year.
About one-third of people who have a TIA go on to have a more severe stroke within one year.


The ASA lists 7 steps a person can take to prevent strokes:

  1. Monitor your blood pressure.
  2. Control your cholesterol.
  3. Keep your blood sugar down.
  4. Get active.
  5. Eat better.
  6. Lose weight if you need to.
  7. Don’t smoke, period.

A stroke can become a life-changing, expensive incident in someone’s life. Preventing a stroke, especially in high-risk individuals, can save a lot of pain, heartache, and money.


The diaconate should encourage its congregation members to do the seven things recommended by the American Stroke Association assuming there’s no better advice.

In The Westminster Larger Catechism, Question 135 speaks of the duties required by the sixth commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.” It says, in part, that we are “to preserve the life of ourselves and others by resisting all thoughts and purposes, subduing all passions, and avoiding all occasions, temptations, and practices, which tend to the unjust taking away the life of any.” This includes “a sober use of meat, drink, physic, sleep, labor, and recreations.”

The diaconate can encourage its members to practice good health and warn them of the risk of stroke. Distributing a simple one-page fact sheet via email or a website is a simple step they can take. Many people may not realize the risk factors or understand what a stroke is or can mean.

The more members who know how to spot the signs and are empowered to take the proper emergent action when they do, the safer the entire body will be.

Read the pages linked to in this article to become familiar with the warning signs and symptoms, as well as treatment, associated with having a stroke.