10 Stroke Symptoms Everyone Should Know
A stroke—a decrease in blood flow to the brain due to a clot or bleeding—is a medical emergency. And doctors often say “time is brain,” meaning the quicker you get treatment, the less likely it is that your brain tissue will be permanently damaged. About 80% of strokes are due to a clot (ischemic strokes) and the rest are due to bleeding in the brain (hemorrhagic stroke).
“There are treatments available for stroke that need to be provided within the first 3-4 hours, such as clot-busting medications. That is why urgent attention is critical,” says Seemant Chaturvedi MD, professor of neurology at Wayne State University School of Medicine. So don’t waste time wondering if you should go to the hospital. If you or someone you know has the following symptoms, call 911.
Trouble seeing or blurry vision
But it may not be as well recognized as facial weakness, arm weakness, and speech problems.
When 1,300 people in the U.K. were asked what symptoms occur in stroke, only 44% knew vision loss is a strong indicator.
Difficulty speaking or confusion
Stroke can impair the ability to express yourself or understand speech. One test: Repeat the phrase “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Are you slurring words, using the wrong words, or are unable to speak? If any one of these occurs, there’s a 72% chance you have had a stroke.
Weak arm or leg
Extend both arms (palms up) for 10 seconds. If one arm drifts downward, that indicates muscle weakness, a sign of stroke. Another test: With eyes open, lift each leg separately.
Dizziness or loss of balance
Patients may confuse stroke symptoms with other conditions, says Dr. Chaturvedi, director of the Wayne State University/Detroit Medical Center Stroke Program. “Sometimes sudden dizziness is attributed to a viral syndrome when it can be the sign of a stroke,” he notes.
A study found women experience non-traditional stroke symptoms 62% more often than men, and one of the most common is pain.
One study involving 588 patients found people who experienced headache with the onset of stroke tended to be younger and have a history of migraine. Women were more likely to have a headache with stroke than men.
Dr. Chaturvedi and colleagues found young adults with stroke symptoms, including migraine, are sometimes misdiagnosed. “If they have stroke-like symptoms, they should request a neurology consult or brain MRI in the emergency room,” he said.
Emergency medical personnel will ask you to smile or show your teeth. If one side of your face sags or doesn’t move, that could mean you’re having a stroke.
Fatigue or mental changes
Another study found 23.2% of women reported altered mental status, compared with only 15.2% of men.
But when stroke affects the brain’s breathing center, it can trigger a sudden, protracted case of hiccups, more commonly in women.