- Weakness or numbness on the face, arms, or legs, usually affecting one side of the body
- Difficulty speaking or comprehending language
- Decreased or blurring of vision
- Giddiness and loss of balance
- Intense headache (often described as the worst headache one has experienced) without an identifiable cause)
Other signs and symptoms of a stroke:
- Diplopia (double vision)
- Pain over the face or legs
- Generalized weakness
- Chest pain
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid heartbeat
- Difficulty eating and swallowing
- Loss of consciousness
- Photophobia (sensitivity to light)
- “Locked in” syndrome (only being able to move the eyes)
What is a stroke?
A stroke, also called cerebrovascular accident (CVA), occurs when the blood supply is cut off or reduced to a part of the brain. This causes a decrease in oxygenation of the brain and prevents the brain tissue from receiving sufficient nutrition. Eventually, the brain cells begin to die. This entire process takes place within a few minutes. A stroke is a medical emergency and requires immediate medical attention. Quick diagnosis and treatment can reduce brain damage, disabilities, and other complications that can be permanent.
What causes a stroke?
The possible causes of a stroke include:
- Atherosclerosis (fatty substance/cholesterol called plaque gets collected in your arteries and narrows them)
- A blood clot in the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain
- Bleeding within the brain
- Bleeding with the brain stem
- Heart attack
- Defects of the heart valves
- Arrhythmia (Irregular heart rhythm)
Several factors that increase the risk of a stroke:
- High blood pressure
- Bleeding disorders
- Recreational drug abuse (especially cocaine)
- Abnormal blood vessels
- Age above 65 years
- High cholesterol
- High blood pressure
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- History of strokes
- Family history of strokes
- Hormone therapy and oral contraceptive pills
- Unhealthy diet and lack of exercise
What do you do if you suspect a stroke?
It is important to be able to identify the signs of a stroke and immediately seek medical help. Being able to identify a stroke and calling for help could be lifesaving for oneself and for a person having a stroke because brain damage begins within minutes. The acronym F.A.S.T. is helpful to remember the most common warning signs of a stroke and react accordingly. Even if the signs of a stroke disappear, medical attention is still required.
- F - Face drooping: One side of the face droops or is numb. When asked to smile, the smile becomes uneven or lopsided.
- A - Arm weakness: It is weakness and/or numbness of one arm. When asked to lift both arms, the arm of the affected side drifts downward.
- S - Speech difficulty: It is slurring of speech. When asked to speak, the words cannot be comprehended.
- T - Time: It is time to call for help (911 in the United States. Helpline numbers are different in different countries) or rush to a hospital, whichever is faster. The Sooner the treatment begins, the better the prognosis. It is recommended that treatment begins within 4.5 hours.
What are the complications of a stroke?
A stroke can sometimes cause temporary or permanent disabilities, which can drastically reduce the individual’s quality of life and prevent them from being self-sufficient. The risk of complications depends on how long the oxygen supply to the brain has been compromised, part of the brain is affected and is the onset of treatment. Seeking immediate medical attention and appropriate treatment may minimize or prevent complications. Complications may include:
- Paralysis: Patients may become paralyzed on one side of the body or lose control of certain groups of muscles on one side of the body. In some cases, such as a brain stem stroke, patients may be completely paralyzed below the neck (Locked-in syndrome).
- Difficulty talking or swallowing: A stroke can permanently cause loss of control of the muscles in your mouth and throat, causing difficulty in speaking, swallowing, or eating.
- Difficulty in comprehending: Difficulty in comprehending and responding to speech and language, reading, or writing.
- Memory loss or thinking difficulties: Many stroke patients have memory loss, difficulty thinking, reasoning, making judgments, following instructions, and understanding concepts.
- Emotional problems: Stroke patients can have difficulty controlling their emotions, and they may have emotional outbursts or develop depression.
- Pain: Pain, numbness, tingling, or other uncomfortable sensations may occur throughout the parts of the body affected by a stroke.
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