The brain is a complex organ that controls various bodily functions and processes. When a stroke happens, permanent damage can occur within the brain. This damage can result in long-term complications that can negatively impact a person’s speech and mobility. Understanding the early warning signs of a stroke can allow you to seek immediate medical attention and reduce the severity of potential symptoms and complications.
What Is a Stroke?
Strokes are the 5th most common cause of death and a primary cause of disability in America. A stroke is a medical emergency where the supply of blood to parts of your brain is reduced or completely interrupted, preventing the brain from getting proper oxygen levels and nutrients. Without oxygen and nutrients, brain cells can take damage and even die within minutes. Strokes require prompt medical attention and treatment to reduce potential brain damage and other complications. There are two types of strokes, including ischemic strokes and hemorrhagic strokes.
An ischemic stroke occurs due to a clot blocking the blood circulation to the brain, limiting the oxygen supply. Ischemic strokes account for approximately 87% of all strokes. Fatty deposits developing on the lining of vessel walls are the primary cause of ischemic strokes. These fatty deposits most commonly cause obstruction due to a blood clot that develops at the fatty plaque of a vessel or a blood clot that forms at another location in the circulatory system.
A hemorrhagic stroke is when blood vessels burst, resulting in bleeding within the brain tissue and damage to the brain cells. Hemorrhagic strokes account for approximately 13% of all strokes. Hemorrhagic strokes are caused by weakened vessels that rupture and bleed into the brain, causing blood to accumulate and compress the surrounding brain tissues. There are two types of hemorrhagic strokes, including subarachnoid hemorrhage and intracerebral hemorrhage.
What Is Pre-Stroke?
In some cases, there is a smaller, temporary clot that may resolve itself quickly. The symptoms of a pre-stroke are often similar to a stroke because of the effect these clots have on the brain. A pre-stroke, also known as a transient ischemic attack, is often the warning sign of a potentially more severe stroke. If a physician detects that a person has experienced a pre-stroke, they may prescribe a thrombolytic drug that can reduce clotting and lower the risk of a more severe stroke occurring in the future.
What Are the Early Warning Signs of a Stroke?
Because a pre-stroke is often a precursor to another stroke that may be more severe or damaging, it is vital to know the symptoms of a pre-stroke and seek medical attention. Unfortunately, a stroke following a pre-stroke may be more severe and may even be lethal.
In some cases, a stroke may occur in as little as 24 hours after experiencing a pre-stroke. On the other hand, a more dangerous stroke can even take as long as seven days to occur after a pre-stroke. As there is no way to accurately predict the timeframe of a stroke after a pre-stroke, seeking immediate medical attention is of the utmost importance. Seeking treatment can help prevent a more severe stroke from occurring and minimize the potential for permanent damage if a stroke does occur. The most common signs and symptoms of a stroke include:
- Numbness: A sudden onset of numbness may occur in the arms, legs or face. This numbness typically occurs on just one side of the body.
- Impaired vision: If a stroke affects the part of the brain responsible for controlling and receiving information from the eyes, vision loss can occur. Vision loss may affect one or both eyes, depending on the severity of a stroke.
- Dizziness: Depending on the portion of the brain affected by a stroke, dizziness or a sensation of swaying may occur. Dizziness is often the symptom of a stroke that affects the cerebellum.
- Sudden headaches: Strokes can sometimes bring on sudden extreme headaches that are painful and have no other obvious cause. The sudden onset of a severe headache may be a potential warning sign of a stroke.
- Loss of balance: A lack of coordination is also another common sign of a stroke. Some people may feel a loss of balance or even trip or fall due to this sensation.
- Confusion: Confusion or feeling disoriented is also a possible symptom of a stroke. Sudden confusion may lead to difficulty speaking or understanding other people when they are talking.
FAST Stroke Signs
FAST is a useful acronym that can help people identify the early signs of a stroke. Recognizing the earliest signs of a stroke can allow you to get medical help as soon as possible and minimize the overall risk of a stroke. Each year, approximately 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke, with 610,000 strokes being first or new strokes. Learning the warning signs and spotting a stroke as soon as possible can help you get vital medical care. FAST stroke symptoms include:
- (F) Facial drooping: Facial drooping is a common sign of a stroke. In most cases, facial sagging and drooping affects one side of the face and is more noticeable when someone is trying to speak or smile.
- (A) Arm weakness: Arm weakness on one side of the body is also a possible symptom of a stroke. If someone has difficulty raising or moving one of their arms, it may be a sign of a stroke. In some cases, weakness of the legs may also occur.
- (S) Speech difficulty: Slurred or incomprehensible speech is also a major sign of a stroke. Some people may not be able to speak even simple sentences.
- (T) Time to call 911: If you or a loved one are experiencing facial drooping, arm weakness or difficulty speaking, you may be experiencing a stroke. If you spot any of these symptoms, you should call 911 and seek immediate medical attention. Seeking immediate treatment may help minimize the long-term effects of a stroke.
Symptoms of a Silent Stroke
Silent strokes can be particularly dangerous because they can sometimes be hard to detect. They often go unnoticed because it can be difficult to notice subtle signs and symptoms. Unfortunately, many people may only notice a silent stroke because of damage that has already occured. One of the most common symptoms of a silent stroke is minor memory problems. Silent stroke symptoms often mimic traditional stroke symptoms but may be less severe or obvious.
Modern Heart and Vascular Institute
The Modern Heart and Vascular Institute is a state-of-the-art, leading cardiovascular practice equipped with innovative diagnostic tools to assess and diagnose various cardiac conditions in their earliest stages. Our practice aims to help patients lead a healthy lifestyle and prevent and lower the risk for various diseases and conditions. Our providers take a technologically advanced approach to each patient and provide fully customized care.
Consult with a cardiologist about your risk of stroke and contact us online today. If you’d like to learn more about our practice, read our providers’ bios.
This article does not provide medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you need cardiovascular care, please call us at 832-644-8930.