Health Matters

Know the Signs and Symptoms of Stroke

A stroke is a “brain attack” that can take two generally distinct forms. Most strokes occur when a blood clot lodges in an artery and blocks blood flow to some part of the brain. Another variety of stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures, causing bleeding into the brain.

Regardless of the type, however, a stroke is an urgent medical emergency. When brain cells are deprived of oxygen-rich blood during a stroke, they die, leading to permanent brain damage that can result in disability or even death. 

According to the American Stroke Association, stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States and a leading cause of disability—so it’s important to learn the signs and symptoms of stroke and to seek immediate medical help when those signs are present.

Signs and Symptoms of Stroke: ALWAYS SUDDEN

Anyone can have a stroke—regardless of age, race or gender. However, nearly three-quarters of all strokes occur in people over the age of 65, and the risk of having a stroke more than doubles each decade after age 55. 

The most common signs and symptoms include the following:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, or an arm or leg on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, or difficulty speaking or understanding
  • Sudden vision changes in one or both eyes
  • Sudden difficulty with walking, dizziness, or loss of coordination or balance
  • Sudden, severe headache for no known reason

If any one of these five symptoms is recognized, call 911 immediately. 

The Importance of a Quick Response

When a stroke occurs, every second counts—and the countdown begins at the onset of symptoms. The longer the time before treatment begins, the greater the number of brain cells that die. The acute treatment window for a stroke is 24 hours, but the sooner you seek emergency care, the better off you or your loved one will be. 

Even if initial stroke symptoms go away, however, always call 911. Often these “mini-strokes,” also known as transient ischemic attacks (TIAs), are warning signs that a more severe stroke is likely to occur. Within about two weeks, 40% of persons having a TIA will go on to suffer a full stroke. Seeking immediate medical care for any stroke symptoms offers the best chance of recovery, or in the case of a TIA, of avoiding a more severe stroke. 

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