A stroke occurs when blood flow to an area of the brain is suddenly cut off. The brain cells become deprived of oxygen and begin to die quickly. Having a stroke is a scary thought, but you can be more mindful of your health and reduce the chances of having one. It’s incredibly important to understand the early warning signs.
Stroke signs often occur hours — or even days — before the actual attack. Read on to learn about the symptoms that could signal you’re about to have a stroke.
1. Severe headache
When a headache — a less common sign of a stroke — does signal a stroke, it’s usually a “thunderclap” headache. This type will come on suddenly and is likely the most painful headache you’ve ever had. Thunderclap headaches are also a common sign of a brain aneurysm, so you should seek medical attention immediately if you experience one. If your headache accompanies any of the “BE FAST” signs, which we’ll outline on page 4, it could be a stroke.
Next: Most people assume this less common symptom means nothing.
Many people recognize slurring your words as a sign of a stroke, but losing your place in a conversation or forgetting what the other person just said can also be a sign. People often mistake confusion for nothing more than a “senior moment,” which is why it typically doesn’t cause alarm. However, if you experience confusion along with any other stroke symptoms, seek medical attention.
Next: This commonly occurs post-stroke, but it can also be a sign of one.
3. Difficulty swallowing
Another less common symptom is difficulty swallowing, which is typically caused by paralysis of the throat muscles. This is most common just after a stroke, but it can also happen beforehand. Throat paralysis is usually temporary, but not if help isn’t sought soon enough.
Next: If you’re having a hard time recalling all these symptoms, just remember to “BE FAST.”
Medical experts created an acronym, “BE FAST,” to help people better understand the symptoms of a stroke. Each letter in “BE FAST” stands for a different symptom. We’ve covered the less common signs of a stroke, but the “BE FAST” symptoms are the most common. When two or more occur together, it’s even more likely to be a stroke.
The “B” in “BE FAST” stands for balance. If you suddenly feel off balance, it could be a sign of a stroke. Balance issues include being unable to walk in a straight line or touch your finger to your nose. Problems with balance can also occur after you’ve had a stroke.
Next: Vision problems may involve more than needing glasses.
Vision trouble is often one of the earliest signs of a stroke. If you suddenly have double vision or can’t see at all, it’s a strong indicator that something is troubling your brain, such as a lack of oxygen. With a stroke, blindness is more common in one eye than both.
Next: The “F” in “BE FAST” is scary to witness.
6. Face drooping
This is a telltale sign that something is wrong. If you experience droopiness in your face or numbness on one side, you should seek medical attention immediately. Droopiness is most easily recognized by an uneven smile.
Next: This scary symptom could be permanent if you don’t seek help.
7. Arm weakness
Weakness in one arm is especially common among those who suffer from a stroke — specifically, the inability to raise both arms at once can signal something is wrong. Temporary paralysis on one side of the body can occur when you have a stroke. It’s important to seek help as soon as possible; if enough brain cells die, you could suffer permanent paralysis.
Next: Trouble speaking can indicate a lot more than stage fright.
8. Speech difficulty
Difficulty forming sentences is another sign that something is affecting your brain. Cognitive skills like holding a conversation can suddenly become difficult when you’re about to suffer from a stroke. Slurred speech often occurs right before a stroke as well.
Next: The final letter in “BE FAST” will help you the most.
9. Time to call 911
The final part of “BE FAST” is to call 911. If you or someone you’re with shows any of these signs — and especially more than one sign — you need to seek help immediately. Again, signs of a stroke can occur quite a bit before the actual attack hits. The sooner you get help, the better. The brain has 22 billion neurons — about 1.9 million of them die each minute you suffer a stroke. It is imperative to get help as soon as possible to avoid serious long-term effects or death.
That’s the full “BE FAST” acronym: balance, eyes, face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty, time to call 911.
Next: Many Americans have stroke risk factors they could be unaware of.
10. About half of all Americans have one or more stroke risk factors
General stroke risk factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, and family history. Diabetes can cause damage to blood vessels, which puts diabetics at an especially high risk for things like heart attack and stroke.
As you get older, more health problems like high blood pressure and high cholesterol arise. About 50% of Americans have at least one factor that could contribute to a stroke.
Next: You’ll be surprised by how many people strokes kill each year.
11. Strokes kill about 140,000 people each year
Although a whopping 795,000 people suffer from a stroke every year, most of them survive. However, according to the CDC, close to 18% do not. It’s important to recognize the early signs of stroke in order to give yourself the best chance of survival. About 80% of strokes are preventable if you properly manage your health and become aware of stroke symptoms.
Next: This surprising factor plays a large role in stroke risk.
12. Race is an unsuspecting factor in strokes
While certain factors like high blood pressure and age are pretty well-known risk factors, race is actually a significant risk factor, too. According to the CDC, black people are actually twice as likely to suffer from a stroke as white people. Also, black people have the highest rate of death due to stroke compared to any other race.
While there has been an overall decline in stroke-related deaths in recent decades, Hispanics have seen an increased death rate since 2013.
Next: Women and men are quite different in regard to strokes.
13. Strokes are more common in women than men
Every year, about 55,000 more women have strokes than men. Stroke is the third leading cause of death for women and the fifth leading cause of death for men. According to stroke.org, taking birth control pills, being pregnant, and using hormone replacement therapy are all factors unique to women that can increase stroke risk. Surprisingly, migraines can also increase a woman’s stroke risk by two and a half times.
However, it’s still important to note that hundreds of thousands of men have a stroke each year, too.
Next: Tragically, strokes are not always one-and-done.
14. If you have a stroke, you’re at risk of having another
It’s quite common to have more than one stroke. Of the roughly 795,000 strokes each year, about 185,000 are in people who have suffered a previous stroke. Within five years of a stroke, about 24% of women and 42% of men will experience a second stroke. Similar to first-time strokes, about 80% of recurrent strokes are preventable with proper care and knowledge of signs and symptoms.
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