When a person has a stroke, their likelihood of full recovery decreases and the risk of permanent brain damage increases over every minute without medical attention. After a stroke, an estimated two million brain cells die each minute. Recognizing the signs of a stroke is vital for one to have the best possible outcome.
Sudden numbness or weakness of the face can be a warning sign of a stroke. If someone has trouble raising their arms when asked or has a drooping smile, they may be having a stroke. Generally, the event will affect only one side of the body. A stroke in the left hemisphere of the brain will affect the right side, while a stroke in the right hemisphere will affect the left side.
People having a stroke often lose their balance and coordination and may have difficulty walking due to blocked or reduced blood supply to portions of the brain that control balance. Strokes usually affect one side of the body and cause one-sided weakness. This creates a muscle imbalance that leads to coordination problems. Balance problems may persist even after a stroke, although rehab therapy helps people improve their balance and coordination.
Slurred speech is one of the easiest signs of a stroke to recognize. If someone suspects another person of having a stroke, asking them to repeat a simple sentence can confirm the existence of slurred speech or an inability to correctly repeat the words. It is highly likely that a person who suddenly exhibits slurred speech is experiencing a stroke, although other disorders of the nervous system, including a head or brain injury, can cause this symptom too. In any case, immediate evaluation is needed.
Often, a person having a stroke will lose half of their visual field on each side. As a result, when looking straight ahead, the individual will be unable to see past midline in one direction. Various conditions or events can cause loss of vision, but this symptom combined with other signs could indicate a stroke.
Dizziness alone is not necessarily a sign of a stroke, and can also occur due to inner ear problems, dehydration, anemia, low blood sugar, heart irregularities, stress, other illness, or medication. Persistent dizziness, however, could be a sign of stroke, especially when the dizziness develops in concert with other symptoms such as trouble walking, loss of balance, numbness or weakness in a leg or arm, visual problems, confusion, headache, and speech problems.
A sudden, severe headache that comes out of nowhere with no clear cause can be a sign of stroke. This symptom is most common with hemorrhagic strokes, when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures and bleeds, causing brain cell death. Ischemic strokes can also cause headaches, though this is less common. People who experience painful headaches might be at higher risk of strokes and heart disease. Some people who get migraines, especially those who develop an aura with their headaches, are at higher risk of stroke.
People who have had a stroke often report feeling severe fatigue. Experts do not know exactly why lethargy is a symptom of a stroke, though it could be due to the body and brain working harder to overcome the physical and mental effects of the event. Fatigue often persists following a stroke, as well.
People on the brink of a stroke may find their swallowing reflex decreases or ceases, and they may even begin to gag. One study found as many as 65% of stroke patients show signs of dysphagia or difficulty swallowing. Doctors treating for stroke usually run a swallow test to determine the seriousness of the issue. Some people require therapy with a speech pathologist following their stroke. Dysphagia after a stroke is often temporary and improves over time.
It is typical for a person having a stroke to lose some or all sensation in areas of the skin. This strange symptom occurs because, during a stroke, areas of the brain that process sensory information can become damaged. This especially affects touch and temperature. Depending on the area of the brain affected, a person may also lose hearing, smell, and taste sensations. Loss of sensation will often improve with a special type of rehab called sensory re-education therapy.
Having a stroke can make a person feel as though they cannot catch their breath or as if their heart is fluttering uncontrollably. Women are more susceptible to this symptom than men. The condition can become quite extreme as pressure in the brain increases. This and other symptoms of a stroke can be similar to those of a heart attack. In addition, people who have an irregular heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation are at higher risk of stroke. It is important to see a health care professional if you have an irregular heart rhythm.
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