7 Warning Signs of a Stroke Hiding in Plain Sight
When seconds matter, there's no time to second-guess yourself.
On Monday, March 4th, 2018, actor Luke Perry passed away, at the age of 52, after complications related to a stroke. His death was a shock to many—especially those who loved him on shows like Riverdale and Beverly Hills, 90120—and jumpstarted a national conversation about stroke. Isn’t he too young for that? (No.) Wasn’t he in pretty good health? (Yes.) Can it happen to me? (Possibly.)
Stroke is a common disease—the third leading cause of death in the United States—but it’s also a commonly misunderstood one. For starters, it’s not always fatal. In addition to the 140,000 people that die of stroke each year, a further 655,000 survive, and live with its often-debilitating effects. When it comes to surviving, and preserving cognitive and bodily function, it’s essential to catch it as early as possible. And that means knowing the warning signs. Here they are.
Facial paralysis or drooping is one of the classic signs of a stroke. When a stroke occurs, it can cause damage to the nerves controlling the facial muscles, causing a pronounced sagging or lack of movement in the face, either due to increased pressure in the brain due to bleeding or a lack of oxygen to the brain caused by a clot.
Numbness or weakness on one side of your body
If you’re experiencing numbness or weakness—specifically if it’s only on one side of your body—it’s essential that you get to a doctor as soon as possible as it could be a sign of a stroke. According to the American Stroke Association, single-sided numbness and weakness is a hallmark of a stroke, and can tell you where it occurred: if your left side becomes weak, the stroke occurred in the right side of your brain, and vice versa.
While many people experience a loss of cognitive function as they age, if you experience sudden confusion, a stroke may be to blame. Known as vascular dementia, this type of loss of executive functioning typically occurs when the brain is deprived of blood flow, like in a stroke. This 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.
Slurred speech, or dysarthria, is among the most common and noticeable signs of a stroke. Typically caused by muscle weakness following a lack of blood flow to your brain during a stroke, your slurred speech may persist even after other symptoms associated with a stroke have gone away. However, dysarthria isn’t the only potential change in speech following a stroke—the most common speech issue following a stroke is aphasia, which can make it difficult for the stroke sufferer to speak in full sentences, retrieve words, or may completely inhibit their ability to communicate.
Sudden vision problems
If you experience a sudden loss of vision, it’s not time to see your eye doctor—it’s time to head to the ER. Approximately one-third of stroke survivors experience some form of vision loss, from partial loss of sight to unsteady movement of the eyes to complete blindness. Unfortunately, vision typically does not fully return to normal following a stroke, even with treatment.
A lack of coordination, including difficulty walking, is a common symptom following a stroke. The lack of blood flow to the brain caused by a stroke can cause muscle weakness, making it difficult to walk, or causing an unsteady gait.
A severe headache
While most headaches are not stroke-related, the condition can cause intense headache pain often mistaken for a migraine. If you have no history of migraines, the pain comes on suddenly, or you have severe visual changes or any of the aforementioned symptoms of a stroke along with your headache, it’s time to get to the hospital immediately. Even if your headache is simply significantly worse than usual, it’s always best to play it safe when a potential stroke is involved.
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