A stroke, or cerebrovascular accident (CVA), is a scary experience. It occurs when the blood supply to the brain is impeded or cut off completely due to lack of blood flow (or ischemia), blockage (thrombosis, arterial embolism), or a brain hemorrhage. As a result, the brains stops functioning normally and oftentimes the muscles in the body, the reflexes, and the senses are all affected.
Luckily, a stroke can be treated, but getting emergency medical attention as quickly as possible is the key to survival. That’s why it’s vital to recognize the following ten warning signs of a stroke…
1. Loss of Balance
The onset of a stroke will cause extreme physical turmoil, so much so that often victims have trouble walking, lose their balance and coordination completely, and even have trouble sitting down without falling. You could stumble and it could feel next to impossible to get your balance, even just focusing on your balance and coordination. Dizziness, (discussed in more detail further in this article), is a common symptom that goes along with balance, walking and coordination issues because the dizzy feelings can actually sometimes be the cause.
While loss of balance is a symptom of a stroke, you can also experience it after a stroke. You may continue to feel dizzy and insecure in your ability to walk without stumbling or falling. According to the Stroke Association, you are more likely to experience balance problems if the stroke affected the left side of your body. Some stroke survivors may only feel mild balance issues, while others may have severe loss of balance, impacting their quality of life.
A sudden loss of strength in the muscles of the face, arm, leg—even if it’s just temporary—can signal an oncoming stroke. Many patients complain of numbness or tingling in the left arm or shoulder that comes on suddenly and gradually worsens. Sometimes, complete muscle failure can occur, where you can’t lift an arm or bear weight on the affected leg.
Muscle weakness can occur after a stroke as well, if you’re immobile for a long period of time. Strokes can cause you to be unable to walk or move many of your muscles, leading to muscle weakness when your body isn’t active. Intense physical therapy can help teach stroke survivors how to better control their weak muscles and do some small tasks. While some people who’ve had a stroke never regain their ability to move one or both sides of their body, physical therapy has lead to many stroke survivors regaining their ability to heal – allowing them to walk and do the other regular day-to-day activities they did before the stroke.
3. Facial Paralysis
Oftentimes a stroke inflicts the facial muscles, where one side of the face droops or goes totally numb so the face appears non symmetrical when they try to talk or smile. This is a common symptom that’s easy for other people to notice. When you suspect someone if having a stroke, you should ask the person to smile. This is a quick way to identify if they’re having a stroke, and if facial paralysis occurs, get them emergency medical attention immediately. Even if the non symmetrical smile or speech difficulty isn’t from a stroke, it’s still a sign that something serious is wrong.
Rehabilitation therapy plays a crucial role in recovering from facial paralysis. Some stroke survivors fully recover from facial paralysis over time, but it is permanent for many people. This symptom and often permanent effect of a stroke is caused by either lack of oxygen to the facial nerve in the brain, or bleeding that puts pressure on nerves and tissues.
4. Difficult Speech
Difficult or slurred speech is another obvious warning sign. If an individual suddenly has difficulty speaking or forming intelligent sentences, it can indicate a stroke. Observers often explain it as watching someone helpless trying to talk, or a look of sudden confusion on the affected person’s face. The person experiencing the stroke can feel extremely confused at the inability to speak, put words together in a sentence, or simply trying to focus on speaking.
Speech can be greatly improved in the first few months following a stroke. The American Stroke Association identifies three speech disorders that can occur after a stroke – aphasia (difficulty or inability to use or comprehend words), apraxia (difficulty initiating or executing movement necessary to speak, despite being physically able to), and oral apraxia (difficulty moving the muscles of the lips, throat, soft palate and throat for things besides speech, like smiling). There are comprehensive treatments and therapies to help a stroke survivor regain their ability to speak well and normally.
5. Impaired Vision
Those affected by a stroke often explain there is a period prior where they have trouble seeing or seeing clearly. They could experience double vision, blurred vision, or complete loss of vision. These vision problems might only be temporary, but observers can test visual aptitude by asking the victim how many fingers they are holding up. If they can’t tell, call 9-1-1.
Many people who have had a stroke experience vision problems afterwards, especially if the stroke was on the right side of the brain. You could have blind spots or trouble focusing because of the cells that are destroyed in the visual cortex. While a high amount of stroke survivors have impaired vision, medical advances have increased the chance of seeing well enough to do regular things like shopping, going out for a walk, or even driving. Intense treatment involving retraining the brain has helped many survivors get some or most of their vision back.
6. Lack of Understanding
A person suffering a stroke will often have difficulty understanding certain statements and commands in the days leading up to the actual stroke. This might also present itself when they try speaking or carrying on a conversation. You might not think anything of the confusion or difficulty understanding things – you may attribute it to fatigue or stress – but it’s important to know that it’s an early warning sign of a stroke so you could recognize it early.
The earlier you can identify you’re having a stroke, the better your chances are at full recovery. The longer you’re having a stroke without treatment and attention from a medical team, the more damage it can cause on your brain. It can also increase your chances of permanent damage resulting in severe disabilities. While it may seem like a small issue, it’s never a bad idea to get checked out if there’s cause for concern. Ruling out a stroke or getting early treatment could save your life.
The sudden onset of a severe, debilitating headache or migraine that is not normal or usual is common prior to a stroke. In fact, many stroke victims explain a headache so painful that it feels like being struck by lightning, causes extreme nausea, and even collapse. The headache could include visual problems, like an aura. An aura is similar to the spots you see from turning on a light bulb after being in a dark room, or a camera flash that leaves spots and makes you blink a lot. The difference is, it doesn’t go away after a few seconds.
It can be extremely difficult for someone who gets regular migraines or headaches – especially if their headaches often come with auras, something common in migraine sufferers – to recognize the symptom as a stroke. This makes it dangerous because you might not seek treatment when you should, decreasing your chance of full recovery, increasing the chance of permanent damage to your brain.
8. Loss of Sensation
In the days leading up to a stroke, it’s common for a gradual, or even a total, loss of vibratory sensation (or feeling) on the skin. Nerves in your brain send signals to different areas of your body. When you’re having a stroke, these signals can be damaged or stop functioning properly, causing complete loss or reduced sensation. You could experience it in one or several areas of your body, depending on the affected nerves. The other senses—such as smell, taste, and hearing can also be fully or partially affected.
Unfortunately, stroke survivors can experience difficulties with sensation after a stroke, including hypersensitivity to touch, loss or reduced temperature sensation, not knowing where a limb is without looking, and reduced touch. It can be frustrating and upsetting to have temporary or permanent damage of this sense, and depending on the severity it may greatly impact your ability to do the normal, everyday things you did before the stroke.
When someone is having a stroke, they may have difficulty walking, balancing, or even sitting down properly. This loss of balance can be so severe that many victims of a stroke feel like the world is spinning and they can’t find their equilibrium (i.e., vertigo). The dizziness can be so severe you feel nauseous, and it may even make you to vomit. The cause of dizziness can be misdiagnosed as vertigo, putting the patient at potential risk of increased damage than if properly diagnosed early on. In some cases, the person having the stroke only experiences the severe dizziness for a short time, which is why it can be hard to diagnose stroke as the cause.
While severe dizziness happens to many people who have a stroke, sometimes the dizziness is not accompanied by other typical symptoms of stroke, making it hard to recognize what’s really happening. Mini strokes happen often without knowing it, and there’s a fairly good chance a regular stroke will occur after experiencing a mini (or several) strokes.
10. Lack of Reflex
It is also common to experience a decrease or loss of reflex. For instance, many stroke victims complain of trouble swallowing when eating to the point where they gag. The American Stroke Association says that up to 65% of people who have a stroke can develop dysphagia, a swallowing disorder. Since this is a predominant symptom and after-effect of a stroke, it’s always examined when you’re in the hospital. There’s a swallow test that can be done, and if you don’t pass the test a speech-language pathologist will be needed for rehabilitation.
The temporary or permanent damage from a stroke varies from person to person, but one thing remains the same: the earlier you seek medical attention when you’re having a stroke, the better your chances are at not just survival, but also full recovery. Knowing the warning signs and symptoms of stroke can help protect you and those around you. If there’s even an inkling you or someone you’re with is having a stroke, call 9-1-1 right away.
By: Anna Fleet on Tuesday, June 25th, 2013 @ 1:00 pm