Stroke care

Use the BE FAST test to recognize and respond to the signs of stroke

Balance – Sudden difficulty with balance

Eyes – Sudden problems with vision in one or both eyes

Face – Face or smile droops on one side

Arms- Sudden weakness in arm or leg

Speech – Unable to repeat a simple sentence, or slurred words

Time – If you observe any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately

Fast action can save brain function when having a stroke. There are a number of effective treatments for stroke, but they are most effective only in the first few hours after stroke symptoms start. Other symptoms you should know:

  • Confusion: Sudden confusion, difficulty understanding language, difficulty thinking
  • Headache: Sudden severe headache, the worst headache of your life

Sandra Hanson, MD, Stroke Program medical director for Allina Health, explains more about stroke in the short videos shown below.

Stroke video transcripts

I'd like to talk to you today about an unfortunately common problem of stroke that affects many of our lives or the lives of our loved ones and can leave a number of people with significant disability. Stroke can take a couple of different forms.

The first type – hemorrhagic stroke is where a blood vessel breaks and blood escapes into the brain and does damage in that fashion.

The second type of stroke – an ischemic stroke is a situation where a blood clot forms and blocks blood flow and therefore oxygen and nutrients to a portion of the brain and does damage in that fashion.

The term TIA or transient ischemic attack is essentially the same thing, but in the case of TIA, the blood clot breaks up spontaneously and blood flow is restored quickly enough that no damage is done, so essentially a warning sign of stroke. In the case of an ischemic stroke, presenting to the emergency room early is critical. There's a period of time where the damage is not yet permanent and intervention with some type of treatment to restore blood flow can result in a better outcome and avoiding the disability of stroke.

Time is critical. It's estimated that almost two million nerve cells are lost a minute, while we're waiting for the blood flow to be restored. So it's very important that you call 911 right away with symptoms or signs of stroke.


The importance of early recognition of a stroke and acting quickly can't be stressed enough. So in order to act quickly, we have to be equipped with an understanding of what a stroke looks like. The suddenness of onset is one of the key features. So sudden onset of numbness or paralysis or weakness on one side of the body, sudden onset of speech difficulty, confused speech or trouble understanding speech, sudden onset of visual problems in one or both eyes, sudden onset of dizziness or imbalance or incoordination or sudden severe headache could be a sign of a hemorrhagic stroke. So it's very important to be able to recognize these symptoms early in yourself or a loved one and get help right away calling 911.

There are a number of risk factors for stroke that you should be aware of. The most common risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease or an irregular heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation or a history of stroke or other vascular disease or smoking.

Now some of these risk factors are direct causes of stroke. For example atrial fibrillation, the irregular heart rhythm can cause you to form a clot and cause the stroke itself. Some of these are just the cause of the cause, so high cholesterol or high blood pressure can predispose you to develop plaque build up in your blood vessels and the plaque build up causes the stroke. But, the point is that some of these are modifiable and your doctor can help you with controlling, for instance high blood pressure or high cholesterol. So it's very important to address these things with your doctor and decrease your risk of stroke.

I want to talk with you today about the treatment of ischemic stroke in the emergency room. So a stroke, an ischemic stroke is when a blood clot blocks blood flow. So the point of treatment is to dissolve or breakup that clot and restore blood flow quickly enough so that no damage is done.

So when you or a loved one would arrive to the emergency room, the first thing that would happen in most emergency rooms is something like a stroke code would occur. This is a team of people collecting to evaluate you quickly, to determine whether you're a candidate for treatment. A CAT scan will be performed, lab tests and an exam at the bedside. And if you're a candidate for treatment, the first line of treatment typically for stroke is to give a clot dissolving treatment called TPA. This works by going through your blood system, through an IV, some of it collects where the clot is, dissolves the clot and restores blood flow. If blood flow is restored quickly enough, damage that would have been done can be limited.

The second line of treatment for strokes that involve a large artery can be more mechanically disrupting the clot. In that case, a catheter or small tube is threaded through your blood system going from the groin up to, all the way up to where the blood vessel is and either mechanically disrupting the clot or dissolving the clot right, right at the site where the clot sits.

So either way these treatments are very time sensitive and it's critical that you arrive to the emergency room, in the early hours after the stroke has started in order to avail yourself of that treatment. So remember call 911 and get to the emergency room, as quickly as you can.

For physicians

A leader in stroke care

Allina Health is a recognized leader in stroke care, offering comprehensive services for stroke patients and their families throughout the Allina Health system. Capabilities encompass the full spectrum of neurovascular care, including fast, accurate diagnosis, access to the most advanced treatments available and extensive rehabilitation services. 

Every Allina Health hospital is recognized as stroke ready by the state of Minnesota. That means every hospital is prepared to evaluate, stabilize and provide life-saving emergency care to patients who exhibit symptoms of stroke. All sites have access to experienced stroke neurology specialists either in person or via TeleStroke 24 hours a day/7 days a week.

Certified Comprehensive Stroke Centers

DNV-GL certified comprehensive stroke seal

Abbott Northwestern and United Hospitals have been awarded certification as Comprehensive Stroke Centers by DNV GL Healthcare. Certification as a Comprehensive Stoke Center is recognition that we are able to offer the highest level of treatment and care available for stroke patients, including advanced neuro-interventional radiology, neurosurgery, and neuro-critical care services.