Home » What to Do When Someone Has a Stroke: First Responder Training Tips

What to Do When Someone Has a Stroke: First Responder Training Tips

by Melissa Bell
4 minutes read

A stroke is an emergency. It’s the number one cause of severe and long-term disability in the US and the fifth leading cause of death. It can happen to anyone, at any age—and it’s mostly preventable. In this article, we’ll provide critical information on recognizing the signs of a stroke and how to respond if someone is having one.

Recognize the signs of stroke.

In the event of a stroke, it’s essential to recognize the signs of stroke right away. A stroke is a medical emergency that can affect anyone at any age, but there are some telltale signs.

The most common sign is sudden weakness or numbness in the face, arm, or leg on one side of your body. This may also be accompanied by difficulty in speaking and understanding speech as well as visual disturbances like blurry vision and loss of balance or coordination (sometimes called an “Aura”).

But these symptoms can also indicate other conditions such as transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), which are mini-strokes that often resolve on their own within 24 hours; seizures; migraine headaches, and even epilepsy.

World stroke day, heart disease concept. Close-up of elderly woman holding red paper heart with wrinkled hands on background of white t-shirts. Selective focus on the heart

Call 911.

If you suspect someone is having a stroke, call 911 right away. When calling, provide the address and phone number of your location. Tell them about this person’s stroke, and provide their age and gender.

Ask them to smile if you’re unsure if the person is having a stroke. If they can’t smile on one side of their face, or if the smile does not reach up to both corners of their mouth, call for help immediately.

If possible, try to determine the time of the stroke. If it is within three hours of calling 911, a stroke team will come and administer clot-busting medication (also called tissue plasminogen activator or tPA), which can reduce brain damage significantly if given early enough.

Check the time.

You must provide the 911 operator with as much information about the situation as possible. Time is essential, so be sure to check your watch or a clock in the room. The time of day can help determine which type of stroke is occurring. For example, strokes are more likely to happen during morning hours and during sleep (called nocturnal strokes). A heart attack also tends to happen during morning hours and while sleeping (called a silent heart attack).

If you are unsure whether or not someone has had a seizure or if they are experiencing actual signs of stroke, it’s helpful for emergency responders to know this information since both conditions require immediate medical attention.

Provide care until professional help arrives.

If you suspect someone is having a stroke, staying calm is the most important thing you can do. You may be worried about the person’s condition or feel overwhelmed by what to do first, but it will help if you can remain calm and focused. The more effective care you provide until professional help arrives, the better chance there is for them to make a full recovery.

Closely assess the person’s level of consciousness and ask them if they can speak/understand what others are saying. If they cannot speak or understand your words, check their level of consciousness and, if possible, try to look for answers to the following questions:

Does the person:

  • Open their eyes? Yes/No
  • Respond when you say their name? Yes/No
  • Follow commands like “Squeeze my fingers?” Yes/No

Knowing these answers can help you determine if the person is conscious or not. If they are conscious, they may be able to tell you what happened and how they feel. If they are unconscious, check their pulse to see if it’s strong and regular (it should be).

If the person is breathing and has a strong pulse but is unconscious and cannot answer questions or follow commands, stay with them until emergency services arrive. If they are not breathing or have a weak pulse, begin CPR immediately (if you have first aid and CPR training). Also, check for injuries such as cuts and bruises on the head, neck, back, and chest areas.


At the end of the day, we can’t stress enough how important it is to be prepared for an emergency. As first responders, we have a duty to help those around us and provide the best possible care until professional help arrives. With the tips provided above, you’ll be well-equipped to handle any situation that comes your way!

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