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Learn the Signs and Symptoms of Stroke

Updated on June 27, 2017

Each year, over 100,000 Americans die from strokes which occur in over 3/4 million people each year. Although this disease is most deadly in black males, every demographic is reached by this silent killer. Although the mortality rate for stroke is not as high as heart attack, many of those who experience stroke are left with debilitating deficits that confine them to assisted living or even 24 hour care.

In many cases, stroke symptoms can be largely reversed if the right care is given in a certain window of time. However, many who die or are debilitated by stroke ignore the symptoms or try to push through them thinking they will go away. Are you at risk for stroke? Do you know what the symptoms of stroke are? Do you know how to care for someone experiencing stroke?

What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of A Stroke?

There are two different types of stroke, and they can happen in several areas, which can make every stroke seem a little bit different. If a person has a stroke in an area of the brain that controls memory, he may have one set of symptoms, while someone who has a stroke near the brainstem may have different symptoms. However, there are certain symptoms that may occur with almost all strokes, just in different areas of the body.

A person having a stroke may have the following symptoms:

  • Right or left side weakness
  • Upper or lower body weakness
  • Vision distortion, such as double or blurred vision, or absent sight fields
  • Difficulty remembering significant words, names or numbers
  • Difficulty understanding people
  • Difficulty saying certain words or sounds
  • Worst headache ever
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Facial droop
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Loss of balance or unsteady gate or hands

There are many other possible symptoms that can occur, but these are the main and most common symptoms that occur in most strokes. Any time you experience one or more of these symptoms that is not easily explained, you should seed immediate medical care by calling 911.

What Are The Risk Factors That Can Lead To Stroke?

Although many people who have stroke are never diagnosed with one of the risk factors, most people are found to have had them. Risk factors do not necessarily mean that a person will have a stroke, nor do they mean that a person without them will not, but they can give us an idea who is more likely to have a stroke.

For all intensive purposes, stroke can be broken down into two areas, ischemic or hemorrhagic. Ischemic strokes are caused when a person has a clot, thrombus, or emboli lodge in an artery or arteriole in a person's brain or spine. These can be caused by many things, but the largest causes are atherosclerosis and atrial fibrillation. Atherosclerosis is most commonly blamed for clots that cause heart attack, but can also cause ischemic stroke. Atrial fibrillation is a dysrhythmia in the heart where the atria are not able to push blood down to the ventricles of the heart. This inability allows blood to churn in the atria and, if untreated, the blood can form small clots that can become dangerous if they are pumped out of the heart.

Ischemic strokes cause symptoms and possibly death due to the fact that they are depriving areas of the brain of oxygenated blood. If the clots are not dissolved soon, permanent damage, and even death, can occur.

Hemorrhagic strokes are caused due to aneurysms (weak areas on blood vessels) that burst or tear. The risk factors for these strokes are atherosclerosis, arteriosclerosis, and cancer. The first two factors can cause aneurysm due to weakening of the blood vessel walls. Cancer can cause hemorrhagic stroke when a tumor bursts or bleeds, especially if it is in close proximity to a blood vessel.

In hemorrhagic stroke, several things can cause symptoms. The blood that is now irritating the surrounding brain tissue can cause symptoms relative to that area of the brain. Lack of oxygenated blood to areas of the brain, caused by less blood remaining in the vessels, can cause relative symptoms. Also, if a bleed is aggressive or allowed to go untreated, blood can displace brain tissue and ultimately will lead to death. Patients with hemorrhagic stroke can only receive definitive treatment from a neurosurgeon, since repair of the affected vessel is imperative.

Initial Care For Someone Who Has A Stroke

The immediate care for a person with stroke is to call 911. In most areas of the US, if a person with ischemic stroke does not reach a stroke center within 3 hours from onset of symptoms, they cannot receive certain care that can dissolve the clot. For those with aneurysm, if they do not reach a neurosurgeon immediately, their symptoms will be permanent and death can occur.

After you have called 911 and prepared the person for transport to the hospital (gathered medications, etc), supportive care is all that can be given. Do not let the person walk without assistance (preferably keep them still) withhold food and water (they will need to have empty stomach for certain tests or if immediate surgery is needed) and keep the patient calm. They are anxious enough by having the symptoms, do what you can to keep their anxiety at a minimum.

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