If You Notice This While Walking, It Could Be the First Sign of a Stroke
Noticing this symptom early enough may help improve your chances of survival.
Every four minutes, someone in the U.S. dies from a stroke. And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the chances of surviving a stroke are much higher if medical treatment occurs quickly. Seeking fast care could also spare you permanent health complications, which means being aware of the first signs of a stroke makes a huge difference to your recovery. Some of these symptoms could even be noticeable in your daily activities. Read on to find out which early stroke warning sign may show up while you're walking.
If you notice a sudden loss of balance while you're walking, it could be an early stroke sign.
An accidental stumble here or there is no big deal, but if you notice an unusual and sudden loss of balance while you're walking, your body could be trying to warn you of a stroke. According to the Mayo Clinic, the two main types of stroke—ischemic and hemorrhagic—can both cause someone to have trouble walking early on. This will likely include a loss of balance or sudden dizziness. You might even stumble or lose your coordination, they say.
A majority of strokes affect the motor fibers connected to movement, according to HealthDay. This can damage portions of one side of the brain and cause the other side of the body to become weak or even paralyzed—making it difficult or even impossible to walk. "When you put your foot on the floor, you can feel it. They can't," Jen Aanestad, PT, a physical therapy supervisor at St. Francis Memorial Hospital Acute Rehabilitation Center, told HealthDay. "If you can't feel where your foot is in space, that's a huge deficit."
Many experts say this should be considered one of the most common stroke signs.
The CDC relies on the FAST acronym when it comes to stroke: Face, Arms, Speech, and Time. This means people should look for signs of the face drooping on one side, one arm drifting downward while raised, and slurred or strange speech—and "time" means you should call 911 right away.
But Mitchell Elkind, MD, former president of the American Heart Association (AHA) and a professor of neurology and epidemiology at Columbia University, told AARP that he prefers to add two additional letters at the start of the acronym: B and E, for "balance" and "eyes," as a sudden loss of balance and change in vision also commonly signal a stroke may be occurring.
"If you think about it, the brain is really responsible for everything that you do. It's responsible for your ability to move, your ability to speak, your ability to think, your ability to see, your ability to feel, to hear, etc. So really, a loss of any of those things can be a sign of a stroke," Elkind said.
RELATED: For more health content delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Most stroke treatments have time windows in which they can be used.
Noticing stroke signs quickly is important so people can pursue medical care as soon as possible. According to the AHA, the average patient loses 1.9 million brain neurons every minute an ischemic stroke is left untreated. And for each hour without treatment, the brain loses as many neurons as it does in almost 3.6 years of normal aging.
Treatments for an ischemic stroke won't even work after a certain amount of time. A clot-busting medication can be used to try to reopen blocked arteries, but it must be given within four-and-a-half hours after stroke symptoms start, per the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. A new treatment called endovascular thrombectomy (EVT) can also be used for ischemic strokes, but most patients are only eligible within six hours after symptoms star, or up to 24 hours for select patients.
If your balance issues only last for a few minutes, you should still get checked out.
Problems with balance could be a sign of a transient ischemic attack (TIA), also known as mini-stroke. In the case of a TIA, symptoms will go away after a few minutes as blood flow to the brain is usually only blocked for a short time, according to the CDC. But this doesn't mean you should ignore it. The CDC says that a TIA is likely a warning sign of a future stroke and requires medical care all the same. One 2005 study published in Neurology found that 43 percent of stroke patients who experienced a TIA had it just a week before they had an ischemic stroke.
"We have known for some time that TIAs are often a precursor to a major stroke," study author Peter M. Rothwell, MD, a clinical neurologist at Radcliffe Infirmary in Oxford, England, said in a statement. "What we haven't been able to determine is how urgently patients must be assessed following a TIA in order to receive the most effective preventive treatment. This study indicates that the timing of a TIA is critical, and the most effective treatments should be initiated within hours of a TIA in order to prevent a major attack."