Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke. Every 4 minutes, a stroke-related death occurs.1 What makes these stats even more painful, is the fact that about 80 percent of strokes are easily preventable. 2
The numbers make it evident that our medical education has clearly failed us somewhere along the line. According to a survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 38 percent of the participants were aware of all major symptoms of a stroke.3 The failure to recognize stroke signs and symptoms could be posing as a serious barrier to bringing down the incidence of stroke-related death and disability, in spite of the fact that the advancements in medical treatment have improved the odds of recovery.
So on that note, here’s a little bit about what a stroke exactly is and 10 most common symptoms you need to know to be stroke aware.
What Is A Stroke?
Stroke is an umbrella term for cerebral hemorrhage (bleeding in the brain tissue or ventricles) and cerebral infarction (obstruction of blood supply to the brain). Like every other element in our body, the brain’s nerve cells are heavily dependent on nutrients and oxygen. In normal circumstances, the blood would supply these to the brain through a network of blood vessels and capillaries. But if the brain arteries get ruptured or blocked for some reason (most times, the blockage happens because of the formation of a blood clot), the blood is unable to reach the brain. This, in turn, causes the brain cells to starve and die. This is why it is highly likely for stroke sufferers to lose certain abilities or memories that are controlled by the affected part of the brain.
While the symptoms of a stroke often show up suddenly, many people start experiencing signs long before the stroke actually occurs.
Types Of Stroke
There are two types of stroke, namely:
- Ischemic: this is the most common type of stroke, caused by a blockage in a blood vessel or the formation of a blood clot which cuts off the blood supply to the brain.
- Hemorrhagic: where the stroke is caused by the bursting of an enlarged artery or a leaking blood vessel. This causes bleeding, which in turn, increases the pressure in the brain. Cerebral bleeding can either occur within the cerebral tissue (intracerebral hemorrhage) or in the space between the brain and the nearby tissues (subarachnoid hemorrhage).
10 Common Symptoms Of Strokes
1. Faulty Vision
Problems related to vision such as blurriness, difficulty in reading or loss of sight in one eye could be a sign of a stroke.
Most people tend to blame this on old age or tiredness. But the truth is, seeing two images is very unusual for just being tired or old. It is more likely that your eye isn’t getting enough oxygen because of a blocked blood vessel, in which case, it can cause vision problems.
2. Slurred Speech
Being unable to enunciate words clearly or using words that don’t make sense even if they sound fine is usually another symptom of a stroke.
Some medicines like painkillers do cause slurred speech and this why people often associate this problem with their drugs. However, if this is not something that you have experienced before, it’s best to call 9-1-1 immediately and seek medical help.
3. Drooping Face
A stroke usually causes one side of your face to droop. If you notice this happening to you or to someone else, it’s highly plausible that a stroke is about to happen and you should waste no time in calling for medical help.
Numbness is a common thing to experience after a nap or when you get up after staying seated in the same position for a long time. However, this kind of numbness is usually due to a compressed nerve and should go away almost immediately.
If it doesn’t, it’s likely caused by a reduced flow of blood through the arteries that travel up your spine and reach the back of your head. This is another common sign of a stroke and it’s best to call 9-1-1 right away.
Tiredness and fatigue is a commonly experienced symptom that is often associated with a long day at work or a night of restless sleep. It is also linked to a series of illnesses that may or may not be too serious. However, people, especially women having a stroke commonly report experiencing a sudden wave of tiredness or weakness, making this an important stroke symptom that shouldn’t be ignored.
6. Vertigo, Dizziness, And Loss Of Balance
Most people attribute their inability to walk properly to drinking. This, however, makes very little sense because a drink from earlier in the day will not make you experience balance issues several hours later.
A more possible explanation for this would be a reduced flow of oxygen to the brain that controls your body balance. When this happens, it’s very likely to make you feel dizzy and prevent you from walking straight. This is definitely not one of those let’s-wait-and-see-if-it-passes symptoms so call the medical emergency helpline right away.
7. A Bad Headache
Yes, it could just be a migraine or the result of a bad night’s sleep. But if you’re not prone to migraines, it could be a warning sign of a stroke. It’s easy to mistake stroke headaches for migraines because both exhibit the same neurological functions. Therefore, it’s always best to assume the worst and call for help instead of assuming it’s nothing and suffering serious consequences later on.
8. Inability To Think Clearly
Everyone struggles to find the right words to say once in a while. It’s especially common to experience a “brain fog” when you’re tired or overworked. However, if you find yourself unable to think clearly for too long, you might be having a stroke.
Sudden cognitive deficits are one of the sure-shot signs that there is trouble brewing within your brain. It’s very likely that the part of the brain that controls your thinking and decision-making abilities is impaired on account of getting too little oxygen. Most stroke patients won’t be aware of something going wrong, and this is why it becomes crucial for the people around them to stay on the alert and raise the alarm.
9. High Blood Pressure
Most people with high blood pressure will feel completely normal. However, it is the single biggest risk factor for both cerebral hemorrhage and cerebral infarction. The tiny blood vessels in your brain are not built for handling high blood pressure, which therefore puts them at a risk of leaking or getting ruptured.
Even if you don’t suspect you have high blood pressure, it’s best to get it checked. If the readings are abnormally high, you definitely want to consult your doctor immediately. He will very likely prescribe you with medication (such as beta-blockers) and recommend certain exercises to help you manage your blood pressure.
Trembling hands are a rare stroke symptom. It is however, good to be aware of the fact that this is a proven sign that there is an obstruction of blood supply to the brain.4
First Aid For Stroke
During a stroke, time is of the essence. It is important to stay calm and act quickly. If you suspect yourself or someone around you having a stroke, follow these steps:
- Call 9-1-1. If you’re exhibiting stroke symptoms, have someone else make the call for you.
- Always make sure to put yourself or the person having the stroke in a comfortable position – preferably lying down on one side with their head slightly raised. Keep the head properly supported to prevent the person from swallowing or choking in case he vomits.
- Check for breathing. If there is difficulty in breathing, loosen up any constrictive garment such as ties and scarves.
- Make a note of when the symptoms started and if the head suffered any injuries. This will help the medical experts make a better decision in terms of treatment.
- Avoid movement in case of numbness.
- Eating and drinking should be avoided.
|↑1, ↑3||Stroke Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.|
|↑2||Stroke facts. National Stroke Association.|
|↑4||Lin, Yi-Pin, Tzu-Hui Li, and Wei-Hsi Chen. “Ischaemic stroke and influenza A H1N1 vaccination: a case report.” Archives of medical science: AMS 7, no. 2 (2011): 345.|