Identify the Signs of a Stroke FAST Before it's too Late
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A stroke is a serious medical emergency, and the odds of survival are much higher if help comes quickly. If you know the signs of a stroke, you might save someone’s life. In fact:

  • Stroke is the 5th leading cause of death in the US
  • Every year more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke, about 610,000 of them for the first time
  • Stroke kills almost 130,000 Americans each year
  • According to the CDC, one American dies from stroke every 4 minutes

The good news is 4 in 5 strokes are preventable. Knowing the risk factors will empower you to take charge of your health and reduce your risk of stroke.

What are the Types of Stroke?

There are several types of stroke. They all involve disrupted blood flow in the brain that leads to brain damage. Here are the most common types of stroke:

  • Ischemic Stroke. This stroke occurs when a clot blocks blood supply to the brain, causing brain cells to lose oxygen. If not treated immediately, this lack of oxygen can cause brain cells to die.
  • Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA). This is a type of ischemic stroke, but TIA involves only a temporary blood clot that goes away on its own. A TIA is a warning that a bigger, more serious stroke may be on the way.
  • Hemorrhagic stroke. This involves bleeding in the brain rather than a clot. Hemorrhagic stroke causes include aneurysms and arteriovenous malformations. These are weak blood vessels. Uncontrolled high blood pressure is the most common cause of hemorrhagic stroke.
  • Silent stroke. This type of stroke has no noticed symptoms and is rarely identified until long after it occurs. The damage they cause is subtle. Over time, the impacts of silent stroke may begin to emerge.

What are the Signs of a Stroke?

Symptoms of a stroke may include the following:

  • Sudden weakness on one side of the body. This includes facial drooping, weakness in the arms and legs, and numbness.
  • Sudden slurred speech. This might also include confusion and difficulty understanding others.
  • Sudden changes in vision. This can occur in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden loss of coordination. This might include dizziness, feeling unbalanced, and trouble walking.
  • Sudden severe headache. Many people describe this headache as the worst headache they’ve ever had. This headache may cause vomiting.

What to do if Someone is Having a Stroke

The National Stroke Association has created the acronym FAST. This acronym tells you what to do if you suspect someone is having a stroke. First, you will assess the person for the most common signs of a stroke. If they’re showing symptoms, you will immediately call for help. Remembering FAST will ensure that you can respond to the warning signs of a stroke.

FAST Signs of a Stroke:

  • Face drooping. One side of the face may droop or become numb. Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • Arm weakness. One arm may become weak or numb. Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech. Speech may become slurred and difficult to understand. Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is speech slurred or garbled?
  • Time to call. If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 immediately. Call even if the signs go away. Check the time so you know exactly when symptoms began.

Acting quickly in the event of a stroke is essential. The chances of survival are greater when emergency treatment begins quickly. Patients who receive treatment within three hours of symptoms starting have better outcomes than those who don't.

If someone is having a stroke, call an ambulance, don’t try to drive them to the hospital yourself. First responders can begin life-saving treatment and perform cpr on the way to the emergency room. They can help ensure that diagnosis and treatment begin immediately upon hospital arrival. Since quick action is so crucial for stroke outcomes, it’s critical to call 911 for an ambulance.

What Is a Silent Stroke?

Silent strokes do not have obvious symptoms but can lead to long-term harm. Researchers and physicians recently discovered silent strokes, but we have yet to understand the long-term effects.

We do know that silent strokes are more common than strokes that cause symptoms. One in four people over the age of 80 has had a silent stroke. Silent strokes increase the risk of future stroke, cognitive decline, and dementia.

Doctors find silent strokes on MRI, and they appear as white spots. These white spots are areas of the brain that have experienced damage. Since these damaged areas are small, the effects of this damage aren’t noticeable right away. This damage can build up over time and begin to have an impact on memory and brain function.

The signs of a typical stroke are evident because it impacts vital brain functions. Silent strokes don’t affect vital brain functions, so they often remain unnoticed. A recent study found that many dementia patients showed signs of past silent strokes on MRIs. The MRIs showed small areas of dead brain tissue, called brain infarcts. Some of these patients experienced memory loss that was due to infarcts. As a person continues to suffer from silent strokes — the damage can add up and affect new parts of the brain.

Since silent strokes are not easily detected, it’s important to know the stroke risk factors. If you or a loved one have many risk factors, it is crucial to manage them. Reducing your risk of both strokes and heart attacks is the best way to protect against silent strokes.

If you or a loved one experiences unexplained memory loss or confusion, talk to a doctor. These symptoms may be a sign of ongoing silent strokes. Your doctor may order an MRI to see if there is any brain damage or evidence of silent strokes. If there is, you and your doctor can discuss treatments and ways to prevent future silent strokes.

Recovering From a Stroke

Recovering from a stroke can be challenging. Patients must simultaneously overcome physical, cognitive, and emotional challenges. Many stroke survivors report frustrations with the recovery process. Having a professional care team can help you take a proactive and informed approach to post-stroke care for your loved one to ease stress.

If you have a loved one recovering from a stroke, there are ways to help. You can promote recovery by assisting them to regain a sense of normalcy. This support will help your loved one practice the skills needed for a full recovery. After someone has suffered a stroke, they may experience short or long-term disabilities. The months following a stroke are crucial for long-term recovery.

If possible, your loved one should return home when they are ready to discharge from the hospital. In-home care can allow your loved one to live in the comfort of their home — with new limitations. Professional care providers can help with daily tasks, such as:

  • Mobility support
  • Help with dressing and hygiene
  • Cooking and light housekeeping
  • Preparing healthy meals that lower cholesterol and keep blood sugar under control
  • Assisting with exercise to improve blood pressure
  • Scheduling and attending medical appointments to manage medical conditions

If your loved one used to cook independently but can’t anymore, an in-home care provider can help. A care provider can prepare meals and can also help your loved one practice cooking skills. Daily opportunities to work on these tasks will help your loved one feel a sense of normalcy throughout recovery.

If you or a loved one has suffered a stroke, it is more important than ever to manage risk factors. 1 in 4 stroke survivors has another stroke within five years. Up to 80% of second ischemic strokes may be preventable. Accessing care allows your loved one to have support in reducing their risk of future stroke.

Reduce Your Risk of a Stroke

The idea of having a stroke in the future can be frightening. Fortunately, there are things you can do to reduce your stroke risk, and it’s never too late to start. People in their 50s can reduce their risk of stroke with simple lifestyle changes. Here are some steps you can take to reduce your risk.

Quit Smoking

Smoking increases blood pressure and impacts blood vessels. If you currently smoke, talk to your doctor about quitting. Your health insurance may cover the cost of smoking cessation programs. If you’re having trouble quitting cold turkey, try to reduce the number of cigarettes you smoke per week.

Exercise Regularly

Exercise provides many health benefits, including decreased stroke risk. Exercise lowers blood pressure, controls weight, and can prevent diabetes. Even low and moderate-intensity exercise can reduce your stroke risk. Aim to get in a few 40-minute exercise sessions per week.

Change Your Diet

Dietary changes may sound scary. Nobody wants to give up their favorite foods, and it’s hard to know where to start. You can begin with simple changes, like decreasing your salt intake. Sodium is commonly used in processed and packaged foods and can lead to high blood pressure. When you’re shopping, read labels to check sodium levels, and cook from scratch whenever possible as a way to control how much salt is in your diet. The Mediterranean diet includes a lot of fruits and vegetables, among other things.

Manage Risk with Medication

Often strokes occur due to high blood pressure. Quitting smoking, changing your diet, and exercising can all lower blood pressure. For some people, medications can also help lower blood pressure. If you have high blood pressure, talk to your doctor about your options.

Manage Diabetes

People with diabetes have a higher stroke risk. If you have diabetes, manage your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar. This will reduce your risk of having a stroke. Make sure you see your doctor frequently and come up with a plan to manage your diabetes.

Avoid Infections

Research shows that recent infections can increase stroke risk. An infection leads to inflammation, which can then cause blood clot formation. Urinary tract infections have the highest risk. If you have an infection, especially a UTI, seek treatment early.

Stroke is a scary prospect. You are now ready to lower your stroke risk, spot signs of silent stroke, and support a loved one through recovery.

Resources

Urinary Tract Infections: A Possible Trigger for Stroke

Midlife isn’t too late for stroke prevention

Could a silent stroke erode your memory?

Guidelines for the Primary Prevention of Stroke: A Statement for Healthcare Professionals From the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association

‘Silent strokes’ found accidentally need treatment, statement says

Types of Stroke

8 Ways to Help Prevent a Second Stroke

Stroke Signs and Symptoms

Women and Stroke

Stroke Treatment

About the Author(s)

Ashley Krollenbrock has been a caregiver for her mom for 10 years. She has her Masters of Public Health and JD with a concentration in Health Policy & Law. Ashley has done legal work for two state protection and advocacy agencies for people with disabilities. She is passionate about disability justice, aging justice, health equity, and aging in place. Ashley blogs at themillennialmatriarch.com, and her goal is to empower families to keep their aging loved ones at home by sharing her story and practical knowledge. Ashley lives in Oregon with her wife and mom, and when she’s not writing or caregiving she loves to travel, garden, and hike with her dogs.

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