Signs of a stroke and actions you should take

If you or a someone you know are experiencing a stroke or cardiac emergency symptoms such as numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, located on one side of the body, confusion or trouble understanding, sudden vision issues in one or both eyes, unexplained dizziness, trouble walking, loss of balance or coordination, please call 911 or visit an emergency department right away.

When actor Luke Perry passed away in 2019 after suffering a stroke at age 52, many people were shocked and saddened by the news. How could this happen to someone so young.           

With the National Stroke Association estimating a 44% increase in the number of young Americans hospitalized for stroke, there’s no better time than the present to find out what you can do to minimize risks for yourself and your loved ones. This is especially true when we are all faced with additional stress caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

What is a stroke?

A stroke happens when blood stops flowing to an area of the brain. Strokes can create problems with speech, memory or walking, and can sometimes cause death.

There are two types of stroke:

Ischemic stroke – happens when a blood clot blocks blood flow to the brain.

Hemorrhagic stroke – happens when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, causing blood to fill the area around the brain and damage cells. These are less common but more deadly.

An Ischemic Stroke, Source: National Institutes of Health

How can you lower your stroke risk?

Although you can’t control your family history, you can be aware of it and make healthy lifestyle changes to avoid the possibility of a stroke happening to you (like it did for Aunt Sally). So, dig deep into your family tree and find out what conditions might be lurking – and adjust now to lower your risk.

The great news is that up to 80% of strokes are preventable with a healthy lifestyle. Here are a few tips to add to the list:

Eat a healthy diet. A well-balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins can help you keep a healthy weight and lower your risk for high cholesterol, and high blood pressure.

Exercise regularly. Regular exercise can help reduce your risk for chronic diseases (like diabetes) that increase stroke risk. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week, 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, or a combination of both.

Quit smoking. Smoking doubles your risk of stroke. Talk to your doctor about ways to quit. You can also check out these smoking cessation resources.  

Drink in moderation. Too much alcohol can increase your blood pressure and your risk for stroke. Men should aim to drink no more than two alcoholic drinks per day and women should have no more than one drink per day.

In addition to these lifestyle changes, it’s also important to maintain an open dialogue with your doctor, especially if you have any of these medical conditions:

  • High blood pressure - can weaken major blood vessels and reduce blood flow.
  • Atrial fibrillation (AFib) - allows blood to pool in the heart, forming clots that can travel to the brain.
  • Diabetes - is often linked to other stroke risk factors, like high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
  • High cholesterol - can block normal blood flow to the brain.
  • Circulation problems (such as atherosclerosis) - can clog arteries and block blood flow to the brain.

What are the signs of a stroke?

When the blood stops flowing to a section of the brain, the functions controlled by that part of the brain are affected – such as movement of your arms or legs, or your sight, hearing or speech. “If someone is having a stroke, every second counts to reduce brain damage. The faster they can get the care they need, the better chance they’ll have at survival and recovery.” says Dr. Yince Loh , Medical Director of Stroke at the Swedish Neuroscience Institute. Learn to recognize these symptoms, think B.E.F.A.S.T., and call 911 immediately.

BALANCE: Does the person have a sudden change in balance?

EYES: Does the person have loss of vision in one or both eyes, or double vision?

FACE: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?

ARMS: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

SPEECH: Ask the person to say something. Is the speech slurred or do they have trouble speaking?

TIME: If you notice any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately. Time is critical!

Other symptoms of stroke can include sudden:

  • Confusion or difficulty understanding speech
  • Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Severe headache
  • Numbness in the face, leg or arm, especially on one side of the body
  • Trouble walking or loss of coordination

Although a stroke can happen at any age, you can lower the possibility for you and your loved ones by knowing your risk factors and making healthy lifestyle changes now.

Additional stroke-related resources

Time is brain so BEFAST to recognize stroke

How to recognize a silent stroke

Heart disease and stroke prevention: It starts with knowing the risks

Atrial Fibrillation Awarenes

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.


About the Author

From deep brain stimulation to focused ultrasound to pediatric neurology, The Swedish Neuroscience Team is recognized as national experts to help people address a wide array of neurological conditions. Our goal is to provide useful and helpful advice and tips on non-surgical and surgical options to treat any disease of the mind.

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