Would you know if someone you loved had a stroke? For many, the symptoms of a stroke aren’t well-known, and as such, are sometimes missed.
And this is a major problem, as stroke is the second leading cause of disability worldwide – with fifteen million suffering strokes each year, of whom a third die and another third are permanently disabled. In the United States, for instance, it’s the fifth leading cause of death.
A stroke is the result of blood supply being cut off to the brain; as a result of that oxygen loss, brain cells die, which causes brain damage.
The two types of stroke are hemorrhagic (a blood vessel leaks or artery bursts, and the additional blood flow in the brain causes pressure) and ischemic (a blockage or blood clot cuts off blood supply to the brain). Ischemic strokes are more common.
Depending on the type of stroke, location of the stroke, and duration of the stroke, the severity of the stroke can vary greatly, which can make them hard to recognize. It’s important to recognize a stroke when one occurs, however, because even if the damage of the stroke is minimal, strokes can be indicators of future strokes.
As a result, knowing the signs of a stroke can prevent serious disability or death in the future.
Check out the signs below:
- Asymetric Pain: Sudden and inexplicable pain on one side (but not the other) of the face, arm, leg, or chest isn’t typical but it’s not uncommon. Women are more likely to experience atypical stroke symptoms, so better to be safe than sorry.
- Balance Issues: Sudden dizziness, lack of coordination, or loss of balance are common stroke symptoms and should be taken seriously.
- Blurry Vision: Sudden difficulty in seeing clearly, such as blurred or double vision, inability to focus your eye(s), or other changes in sight (in one or both eyes) can signal a stroke.
- Confusion: If you’re in the middle of doing something and become suddenly confused, disoriented, or unable to understand and think straight, it could be a sign of stroke.
- Facial Paralysis: This is probably the best-known symptom of stroke. Sudden numbness/weakness/paralysis of one side of the face, arm, or leg can tell you a stroke is in progress. As the Mayo Clinic notes, “Try to raise both your arms over your head at the same time. If one arm begins to fall, you may be having a stroke. Similarly, one side of your mouth may droop when you try to smile.”
- Fatigue: Women are more likely than men to feel sudden extreme fatigue, weakness, confusion, and changes in mental state during a stroke.
- Headache: A normal headache feels like a dull squeeze of the head and occurs with no other symptoms of a stroke. A migraine is a sharp, painful throbbing that is usually preceded by other symptoms. A sudden, sharp, monstrous pain in the head—especially in younger people—can be a sign of stroke. Women are more likely to experience a stroke headache than men, especially those who regularly get migraines.
- Respiratory Difficulty: Women can experience different symptoms of a stroke than men. Having difficulty breathing or swallowing are two of these. These other signs of stroke are more common in women: fainting, irritation, hallucination, nausea or vomiting, sudden pain, seizures, hiccups.
- Tremors: Delayed onset hand tremors are a relatively uncommon but confirmed symptom of cerebral infarction—obstruction of blood supply to the brain.
- Trouble Speaking: The area of the brain that is most responsible for speech is often affected by stroke. Inability to speak, slurred speech, or being unable to understand speech are common when suffering a stroke.
- Trouble Walking: Sudden numbness or tingling anywhere in the body (“pins and needles”) or instability and trouble with normal walking can be signs of a stroke.
- Vertigo: Dizziness or imbalance alone isn’t necessarily a sign of a stroke; dizziness and imbalance accompanied by vertigo often are symptoms of a brainstem stroke. Vertigo is the sensation of swaying or spinning without moving or that objects in the environment are moving when they’re not. Vertigo alone is often a simple matter of an imbalance in the inner ear and can be cured with the Epley Maneuver or another physical adjustment. It’s the triumvirate that is of concern for stroke.
When it comes to strokes, prevention is key, as many experts believe the vast majority of strokes are preventable with lifestyle changes, such as the following:
- Exercise regularly, at a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate intensity at least 5 days a week.
- Keep blood pressure manageable. Maintain blood pressure less than 120/80.
- Limit alcohol to no more than one glass per day.
- Maintain a healthy weight. A Body Mass Index of 25 or less is desirable. The National Institutes of Health provide an online calculator for your BMI: click here to access.
- Moderate blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes, stay on top of it. The risk of stroke is significantly higher for individuals with diabetes.
- Stop smoking cigarettes.
Lastly, if someone you love suffers a stroke, acting quickly and getting immediate medical attention is imperative, as there are things doctors can do in a medical setting to help treat the underlying cause of the stroke.
The mnemomic FAST can help you recognize a stroke as it’s occurring.
Here’s what you need to remember:
- F (Face): Ask the person to smile. Look for signs of drooping on one side of the face.
- A (Arms): Ask the person to raise both arms. Look for a downward drift in one arm.
- S (Speech): Ask the person to repeat a phrase without slurring. For example, you could have her say, “The early bird catches the worm.”
- T (Time): Waste no time. Immediately call your local emergency services if you or someone you know shows signs of a stroke.
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