Take it from someone who knows, a stroke can happen to anyone. So it's important to learn the signs and symptoms, and what to do in case it happens to you.

I was in my mid-30's when I went to the hospital's emergency department with a headache. The doctors did a cat scan and a spinal tap, the latter because my Mom had experienced a hemorrhagic stroke less than a year earlier. The spinal fluid was clear and so I was diagnosed with a migraine and given some painkillers.

But it was the cat scan that was troubling. Doctors said it appeared that I had an anomaly on my brain and they scheduled me for an MRI. And over the next several weeks, I had five MRI's. Finally, I saw a neurologist who told me that, at some point in my life, I had experienced a stroke. It was in a part of my brain where there would be no, or very minimal symptoms, so I wouldn't know it had happened. And there was no way to tell me when it happened, so it could have been as a child, or a month before that appointment. What that meant for me, the doctor told me, is that I'm at increased risk for stroke and needed to educate myself.

The acronym used by stroke specialists is FAST. F stands for Face Drooping. If you suspect someone is having a stroke, ask them to smile. Does one side of their face droop slightly? Ask them if they have any numbness on that side of their face.

A stands for Arm Weakness. Ask the person if they're experiencing any numbness in their arm. Have them lift their arms over their heads and, if one of the arms drifts downward, that's a sign that they may be experiencing a stroke.

S is for Speech Difficulty. This can manifest itself as slurred speech or difficulty speaking clearly. Ask the person simple questions, like repeating their own name, or telling you their address. If they have problems recalling or relaying basic information, they may be having a serious episode.

Finally, the T stands for Time to Call 911. If you see these warning signs in a person, it's time to call an ambulance. The sooner a stroke victim gets treatment, the better their chances at minimizing the after-effects. My Mom had one of the worst kinds of stroke, during which she was literally bleeding into her brain. But my Dad recognized that something was seriously wrong and rushed her to the hospital. Many years later, you would never know that she had a stroke. No paralysis and no speech impairments. She's living proof that time saved in seeking treatment is literally 'brain saved.'

For more information on recognizing the warning signs and how a stroke can affect you, log onto the American Stroke Association's website.

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