The Subtle Signs of Stroke: What to Watch For

The Subtle Signs of Stroke: What to Watch For

It seems as though there are constantly new stories about people having a stroke with minimal warning. The unfortunate statistics say that stroke kills about 140,000 Americans each year, which is roughly one out of every 20 deaths. And, someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds. 

Some signs of stroke can be overlooked, and many of us don’t even know what to look for in general. In fact, one study found that most people under 45 would not rush to the ER if they had telltale symptoms of stroke, such as limb weakness and slurred speech. Given this, it’s important to understand some subtle signs that signify stroke — especially the signs that are often ignored.

The more apparent signs include the sudden inability to move or talk. The acronym F.A.S.T. is commonly used to identify early signs of a stroke.

  • Face drooping. If you ask the person to smile and it looks uneven, this is a sign.
  • Arm weakness. One side feels weak or numb. If you ask the person to lift both arms, one will be lower than the other.
  • Speech difficulty. The person will have trouble speaking or sound slurred.
  • Time to call 911. Call 911 immediately if someone has any of these symptoms, as time is of the essence with stroke.

Lesser-known signs include:

  • Dizziness or a sudden loss of balance or coordination (one minute you feel fine and the next you have trouble walking)
  • Headache that comes on quickly with no obvious cause
  • Weakness in the face
  • Numbness
  • Confusion or trouble understanding
  • Sudden change in vision, especially in one eye, which can indicate a pre-stroke or transient ischemic attack, which can signal an impending stroke.
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Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs)

Transient ischemic attacks are often called “warning strokes,” “pre-strokes,” or “mini-strokes.” This is blood flow to the brain stops for a short period. Most people experience stroke-like symptoms during this time; however, the symptoms typically last less than 24 hours. While TIAs do not usually cause serious brain damage, roughly 40% of people who experience TIAs go on to have a stroke and nearly half of those people have a stroke within a few days of the TIA. This can act as a warning sign that a stroke will happen in the future, so these symptoms should never be ignored. Early detection is essential, so if you or someone you know has these symptoms, you will want to get to a hospital quickly.

If you experience any of these symptoms or see someone exhibiting signs of a stroke, call 911 immediately.

Lifestyle changes to prevent stroke

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Not all strokes are preventable, but you can take actions that lower your risk. Common risk factors are a history of tobacco use, high cholesterol, diabetes, and high blood pressure. Steps to take include:

  • Exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet. Keeping healthy habits may reduce your risk of stroke. Try taking regular walks and cutting out unhealthy food from your daily diet.
  • Stop tobacco use. Talk to your doctor about ways to quit or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW.  Those in New York state can call 1-866-NY-QUITS (1-866-697-8487) for strategies and tools to help stop tobacco use.
  • Know your history. Always talk to your doctor about any family members who had a stroke. Your doctor can look at your overall health and explain whether or not you may be at risk for a stroke.

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