The Signs of Stroke
Strokes don’t just happen to older adults. The effects can be reversed if treated quickly enough, and they can actually be prevented. We bust the most common stroke myths.
Strokes are scary. They’re the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, and they cause disability in about two-thirds of survivors. But don’t let the facts scare you away from understanding the symptoms and how to prevent a stroke.
Myth: Strokes only happen to the elderly
Actually, a stroke can happen at any age. A quarter of strokes occur in people younger than 65, and as many as 10 percent of stroke patients are younger than 45, according to the National Stroke Association.
Myth: Strokes and heart attacks are the same thing
Strokes are often mentioned alongside heart attacks, because both are vascular diseases — diseases that affect the heart or the blood vessels. But while heart attacks affect the blood vessels in the heart, strokes affect the blood vessels in the neck or brain. That’s why they’re also called brain attacks.
Myth: I don’t have a headache, so it’s not a stroke
Some patients describe the headache they experience during a stroke as the worst headache they’ve ever had. But not all strokes are signaled by a headache. Other symptoms to watch for include:
- Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg, especially on the same side of the body
- Sudden confusion or trouble speaking
- Sudden difficulty seeing out of one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness or loss of balance
Myth: Doctors can reverse a stroke as long as you get to the hospital within four hours
About 85 percent of strokes are ischemic, meaning they’re caused by a blood clot blocking a blood vessel to the brain. These strokes can be treated with a drug called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), but it must be administered within three hours of the onset of the stroke. Sometimes tPA can be given up to four and a half hours after onset, but that’s only in select patients.
Some of the worst kinds of strokes can now be treated up to 24 hours from when the symptoms began in specialized facilities like Ochsner Medical Center in New Orleans. But the longer the symptoms have been going on, the less likely it is that you could recover from them.
Either way, that doesn’t mean you can wait at home until the last minute. Once you get to the hospital, it takes about an hour to be evaluated for any treatment and for it to be administered. Add drive time and any other delays, and you could easily eat through half the time window or more. The best advice is to call 911 as soon as you suspect a stroke. That way, paramedics can begin evaluating you on the way to the hospital and alert a stroke team so they are ready upon your arrival.
Learn more about your risk of stroke.
Myth: There’s not much you can do to prevent a stroke
Not true. As a matter of fact, it’s estimated that up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented, according to the National Stroke Association. If you smoke, start by quitting. Then focus on keeping your cholesterol, blood pressure and diabetes in check with regular screenings and medication if your doctor prescribes it. And strive to eat a heart-healthy diet, get regular exercise and maintain a healthy weight.