Every year, close to 800,000 people in the U.S. have strokes. About 75% are first-time strokes, which means conversely that one in four strokes is a repeat stroke, which often leads to a worse outcome.
Stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death in the U.S. and a leading cause of long-term disability, which means that all Americans should learn how to recognize the causes and warning signs in order to limit permanent damage.
Contributory factors for a stroke
According to the American Stroke Association, 80% of strokes are preventable. Conditions that contribute to strokes include:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol
- Atrial fibrillation
- Poor diet and nutrition
- Cigarette smoking
- Excessive alcohol use
It’s important to note that about 1/3 of people hospitalized for strokes are under the age of 65. If you have any of these conditions, whatever your age, talk to your doctor about how you can improve your health to decrease your risk of having a stroke.
Signs to watch for
Different signs can occur depending on the type of stroke and the location that is affected. If a stroke is on the right side of the brain you may experience weakness and/or numbness on the left side of your body, or neglect of the left side. A stroke on the left side of your brain may cause weakness or paralysis on the right side of your body, slurred speech, trouble getting words out, or understanding others.
Other symptoms can include sagging on one side of the face, confusion, trouble seeing in one eye or on the same side in both eyes, trouble walking, loss of balance or coordination, or dizziness, or a sudden very severe headache for no apparent reason.
Except for the last symptom, strokes are very often painless, which causes many patients to ignore symptoms, thinking they will go away. This is a terrible mistake. The damage can be extreme with each minute that goes by without treatment; two million brain cells can die every minute when blood flow is interrupted.
Frequently, it is not the person having a stroke who notices the symptoms, but usually a spouse or someone else nearby who notices slurred speech, confusion, or a side of the face that does not move properly. If you see any of these signs in another person, call 911 right away.
Interestingly, a study reported on the CDC website found that 93% of stroke victims noticed sudden weakness or numbness, especially on one side. This was by far the most common symptom, and something a stroke victim may be able to immediately recognize, prompting the person to call 911 for help. Other major symptoms were confusion or trouble speaking (87%), sudden trouble walking/imbalance/dizziness (83%), sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes (69%), and severe headache with no known cause (60%).
One consistent factor with all warning signs is that they come on very suddenly. Most of us, don’t want to consider the possibility that something serious could be happening. And some might be hesitant to react quickly, out of fear of being wrong and maybe looking silly. Absolutely reject such thoughts when they come to mind. If you suddenly experience any of these symptoms, immediately call 911. Quick medical attention within the first couple of hours can often prevent long-term damage and permanent disability.