It appears to strike out of nowhere. You have a sudden headache with no known cause. Your vision gets blurry, and you feel drowsy and nauseous. A little later, you may have trouble speaking and an arm or a leg is suddenly weaker. These are the early signs of a stroke, and at this point, you must immediately call 911.
These early warning signs, while not experienced by everyone, are a clue that you have had a medical event. There has been an interruption of oxygen and nutrients to the brain.
Other indicators of a stroke include sudden confusion, a loss of balance and coordination as well as in some cases, seizures. Even if these symptoms pass quickly, they are important indicators that require immediate medical attention. Not in an hour, but immediately. Not after you finish this or that, but now. The radio spots by the American Stroke Association (ASA) may say it best: “Time lost is brain lost.” The organization says that every 45 seconds someone has a stroke in the United States; someone also dies of a stroke every three to four minutes.
Prompt evaluation is vital
Sometimes these early symptoms may last only a few minutes and then disappear. This type of brief episode is known as transient ischemic attack (TIA or mini-stroke). Neurologists say there is really no way to tell whether the symptoms are from a mini-stroke or a major stroke. That’s why a prompt evaluation—recommended hopefully within 60 minutes—is necessary to identify the cause of the stroke and to determine appropriate therapy. And even if the symptoms appear to diminish, a serious problem caused by the TIA is not going to go away without medical help.
The ASA reports that 80 percent of strokes are the result of a clot (ischemic strokes) and the rest are due to bleeding in the brain (hemorragic stroke). Warning signs of a stroke need not precipitate a panic attack, but do require quick thinking. For instance, because a stroke can impair the ability to speak or understand speech, the ASA suggests a quick test: Repeat the phrase “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” If you are slurring words, using the wrong words or are unable to speak, there is a 72-percent chance that you’ve had a stroke.
When a person is experiencing a stroke, it is common for an arm or leg (or both) to suddenly weaken, go numb or become paralyzed. Often the affected limb(s) is on the side of the body opposite from where the stroke occurred in the brain.
Another tip is to extend both arms (palms up) for 10 seconds. If one arm drifts downward, that may indicate muscle weakness, which is a sign of a stroke. Also, recline in a chair and, with both eyes open, lift each leg separately until they are parallel to the ground. If you cannot lift each leg one at a time, you may have had a stroke.
The ‘worst headache’ ever
Most of the time, however, it is a severe headache—the worst you’ve ever had—which is the most common stroke symptom. Then there is the “droopy “ face. Sudden, one-sided facial weakness can be a sign of a stroke. When paramedics arrive to treat a possible stroke victim, they will often ask a person to smile or show their teeth. If one side of the face sags or doesn’t move, that is a signal to them identifying a stroke. Even hiccups—usually a minor nuisance—can occur when a stroke affects the brain’s breathing center. As well, sudden breathlessness or heart palpitations are further signs of a possible stroke.