What I've Learned About the Signs and Symptoms of a Stroke
Do You Know the Warning Signs of a Stroke?
Between my wife and me, all four of our grandmothers have suffered strokes. Both of my grandmothers died as a result. My wife's grandmothers are thankfully still alive, but their lives are very different now as a result of their strokes.
Strokes happen suddenly and are a medical emergency. The long-term effects range from mild to debilitating. Fortunately, the impact can be reduced if the warning signs of a stroke are recognized and the victim gets emergency medical treatment quickly (i.e., within the first few hours).
Knowing and recognizing the symptoms of a stroke can mean the difference between your loved one having a full recovery and having to spend the rest of their life in a nursing home or worse.
The Three Most Common Warning Signs
There are 3 primary warning signs that someone is having a stroke. The American Stroke Association and National Stroke Association both use the acronym F.A.S.T. to help people remember them.
- F - Face: Ask the person to smile and check if one side of the face droops.
- A - Arms: Have the person raise both arms and check if one arm drops or can't be raised.
- S - Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence and notice if their speech is slurred, strange or they are unable to speak.
- T - Time: If you see any of these symptoms, it's time to call 911 immediately. Note the time of day the symptoms appeared. The time is important information for the doctors to determine the proper treatment.
The National Stroke Association has a stroke warning signs wallet card with the acronym that you can print out and carry with you.
These symptoms may come and go. Be safe and get medical care immediately even if the symptoms disappear.
My Grandmothers' Stroke Stories
My Nana died when I was very young. She had a stroke while driving, which caused her to run off the road. She died in the accident.
My Mimi suffered a stroke (possibly multiple strokes) a few years ago. She went to bed one night with a headache and and nausea. When she didn't come out of her room in the morning, my mom found her unconscious and called 911.
She regained consciousness after a few days in the hospital, but the damage was done. Her left side was completely paralyzed, she had a lot of difficulty talking, and she was barely able to move or feed herself. Her next two years were spent in a nursing home before she passed away. I miss her dearly.
Other Stroke Symptoms
There are several other stroke symptoms that may occur. These include:
- Sudden change in vision. This could be a reduced field of view or unable to see in one or both eyes.
- Sudden numbness, weakness, tingling or loss of movement in the leg, arm, or face. This usually occurs on one side of the body.
- Sudden severe headache.
- Sudden dizziness or loss of balance or coordination
- Sudden difficulty with memory, speaking or understanding when spoken to.
- Sudden changes in hearing, taste or sense of touch.
Like the primary symptoms above, these may start mildly and increase in severity or come and go.
What is a Stroke?
A stroke happens when blood flow to the brain is interrupted. After a few minutes without oxygen, the brain cells begin to die and permanent brain damage can occur. The functions controlled (movement, vision, speech, etc.) by the area of the brain that lost its blood supply are affected and show as stroke symptoms.
Blood flow can be disrupted by blood clots or other blockages (ischemic stroke), or by a ruptured blood vessel (hemorrhagic stroke).
Stroke is the 4th leading cause of death in the U.S.
Has Someone Close To You Suffered A Stroke?
My Wife's Grandmothers' Stroke Stories
We were out to dinner with Grandma D. and other family members. She was talking about her existing health issues and mentioned that her field of vision was narrowing. None of us recognized this as a sign of stroke. The way she said it, it sounded like something that had been going on for a while or a side effect of her medications.
Later that night she had more severe stroke symptoms and 911 was called. As a result of the stroke, her left side is mostly paralyzed, she's lost about half of her field of vision and she has difficulty remembering things.
Grandma B. was home alone when she had a stroke, fell and couldn't get up. Luckily, a relative stopped by to check on her and found her before it was too late. Her motor skills weren't affected much but the stroke impacted her ability to find the right words when speaking.
She's suffered a few more strokes since then, but was around family who recognized the symptoms and got her to medical care quickly.
How to Prevent a Stroke?
The risks of suffering a stroke can be reduced. Some risk factors like age or family history you can't do anything about. Here are the risk factors you can control.
- High Blood Pressure - This is the primary risk factor for stroke that you can control. Get yours checked regularly and talk with your doctor about reducing it.
- Smoking - The health and economic benefits to quitting are huge. Quit smoking now.
- Atrial Fibrillation - An abnormal heartbeat can cause blood to pool and form clots. Check with your doctor.
- High Cholesterol - Check with your doctor and take steps to reduce high levels.
- Diabetes - If you have diabetes, talk to your doctor about your risk for stroke and what you can do to reduce it.
- Obesity - Maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly will improve your cardiovascular health.
- Heavy Alcohol or Drug Use - Alcohol, cocaine and amphetamines have all been associated with stroke risk.
Organizations Helping to Fight Stroke
- The American Stroke Association
The American Stroke Association is solely focused on reducing disability and death from stroke.
- National Stroke Association
The National Stroke Association's mission is to reduce the incidence and impact of stroke by developing compelling education programs focused on prevention, treatment, rehabilitation and support for all impacted by stroke.
- The American Heart Association
The American Heart Association is a national voluntary health agency to help reduce disability and death from cardiovascular diseases and stroke.
References & More Information
I'm not a doctor, and I've never played one on TV. I used the following reference sites in my research of strokes. There is a lot of good information on these sites; please visit them to learn more.
"Warning Signs of Stroke". National Stroke Association. December 2012. http://www.stroke.org/site/PageServer?pagename=SYMP.
"What is Stroke?". National Stroke Association. December 2012. http://www.stroke.org/site/PageServer?pagename=stroke.
"Stroke Prevention". National Stroke Association. December 2012. http://www.stroke.org/site/PageServer?pagename=prevent.
"Stroke Warning Signs". American Stroke Association. December 2012. http://www.strokeassociation.org/STROKEORG/WarningSigns/Stroke-Warning-Signs_UCM_308528_SubHomePage.jsp.
"About Stroke". American Stroke Association. December 2012. http://www.strokeassociation.org/STROKEORG/AboutStroke/About-Stroke_UCM_308529_SubHomePage.jsp.
"Stroke Health Center". WebMD. January 2011. December 2012. http://www.webmd.com/stroke/guide/stroke-symptoms.
"Stroke - Topic Overview". WebMD. January 2011. December 2012. http://www.webmd.com/stroke/guide/stroke-topic-overview.
"Stroke - PubMed Health". U.S. National Library of Medicine. June 2011. December 2012. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0001740/.
"Stroke". Wikipedia. December 2012. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stroke.
Thanks for taking the time to learn about the warning signs of a stroke. Please leave a comment below about your experiences with stroke, or why you want to know the signs.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.