13 Surprising Stroke Symptoms Everyone Needs to Know
According to medical experts, knowing these stroke symptoms could save your life.
Of course, you know that a stroke is a very serious, often fatal, medical event. But are you aware of just how prevalent the condition (which is the result of an interruption in blood flow to either side of the brain) is among Americans? And do you know the warning signs of a stroke to keep an eye out for? According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), strokes kill approximately 140,000 Americans annually, making it the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. And one of the best ways to avoid becoming a statistic is knowing the early warning signs. Keep reading to learn the common subtle stroke symptoms to watch out for—because that knowledge is one of the first steps toward prevention.
Intense headache pain that often goes mistaken for a migraine is one symptom of a stroke you should keep an eye on. "This can occur as a result of bleeding in the brain," explains Sanjiv Patel, MD, a cardiologist at MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute in California.
If you experience any of the following symptoms of a stroke along with a headache, it's time to get to the hospital immediately. Or, if your headache is significantly worse than usual, it's always best to play it safe and seek medical attention.
According to Patel, sudden onset nausea or vomiting could be another symptom of a stroke. He explains that both of these symptoms occur "due to a blocked artery or bleeding in the brain."
Strangely enough, a stroke can also cause unrelenting hiccups. In fact, as one 2005 paper published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry notes, several other neurological issues can also cause hiccups—so even if you don't think you're having a stroke, persistent hiccups are worth getting checked out by a doctor.
"A stroke in the back of the brain can cause balance difficulty and dizziness," says Jason Tarpley, MD, a stroke neurologist at Providence St. John's Health Center in California. If it becomes hard to walk out of nowhere, it's definitely time to see a doctor.
Women in particular need to pay attention to any chest pain they may experience. According to Cedars-Sinai, chest pain—especially when it's accompanied by heart palpitations—can be a sign of a stroke.
Shortness of breath
Chest pain isn't the only stroke symptom that mirrors a heart attack. Cedars-Sinai notes that it's not uncommon to experience shortness of breath, too. Strokes and heart attacks are equally serious, so either way, this—and all other symptoms identified on this list—should be addressed immediately.
Many people experience a loss of cognitive function as they age, and that's completely normal. If you're dealing with sudden confusion, though, don't just chalk it up to getting older. The Mayo Clinic explains that this type of loss of executive functioning—known as vascular dementia—typically occurs when the brain is deprived of blood flow (like it is during a stroke).
This symptom doesn't always manifest as simple confusion, however. For some people, it can mean an inability to read or even difficulty understanding what other people are saying.
In addition to confusion, strokes can affect the brain in a variety of other serious ways, including some form of memory loss, according to the American Stroke Association.
Numbness or weakness on one side of your body
If you're experiencing numbness or weakness—specifically only on one side of your body—it's essential that you get to a doctor as soon as possible. According to the American Stroke Association, single-sided numbness and weakness is a hallmark sign of a stroke. What's more, it can tell you where the stroke occurred: If your left side becomes weak, the stroke occurred in the right side of your brain, and vice versa.
Facial paralysis or drooping is one of the classic signs of a stroke. That's because when a stroke occurs, it can cause damage to the nerves controlling the facial muscles, resulting in a pronounced sagging or lack of movement in the face.
The American Stroke Association also lists slurred speech among the most common and noticeable stroke symptoms. It's typically caused by muscle weakness following a lack of blood flow to the brain, and it can persist even after other symptoms subside.
According to The Stroke Foundation, approximately a third of those who have strokes experience some form of vision loss, ranging from partial loss of sight to complete blindness. Unfortunately, vision typically does not fully return to normal following a stroke either—even with treatment.
Change in your behavior
Though strokes tend to cause behavioral changes, the specifics of these shifts depend on what side of the brain the stroke occurred on. As the American Stroke Association notes, strokes on the left side of the brain cause "slow, cautious behavior," while strokes on the right side of the brain result in "quick, inquisitive behavior." Even after treatment, many of these behavior changes tend to remain as well.