Think “F.A.S.T.”! Most of us know the major signs of a stroke, such as “Facial drooping”, “Arm weakness”, and “Speech difficulties”, any of which indicate that it’s “Time” to call emergency services. But what about the more subtle signs which can get overlooked?
A missed stroke can be disastrous. During each minute of a stroke, the brain loses an estimated 1.9 million neurons. Each hour a stroke goes untreated ages the brain by the equivalent of about three and a half years. While many people write off this condition as exclusive to the elderly, strokes can happen at any age, and they’re on the rise in younger adults. Research indicates the rate of women 35 to 40 being hospitalized for clot-related ischemic stroke (the most common kind), shot up by 30 percent between 1995 and 2008.
Since stroke rates are increasing, it’s important to know how to spot this life-threatening condition. However, it’s difficult to know all the signs of stroke because there are at least 30 possible symptoms, many of which are not exclusive to stroke and may also occur with other illnesses. Some of the classic signs, including an inability to move or talk, may not be present, and more subtle signs have a higher chance of being missed. Failing to recognize these symptoms may lead to dangerous delays in receiving medical care and render some of the most effective stroke treatments useless. Being more aware of the lesser-known signs of stroke can help increase the chances of correctly identifying a stroke when it happens and improve the likelihood of getting effective care to reduce lasting damage.
These common signs of stroke are easy to miss
Changes in vision
Vision problems like seeing double, blurriness, or loss of sight in one eye can be signs of a stroke, but many people blame this on old age or tiredness. However, seeing two images is very unusual for just being tired or reading too much. A blocked blood vessel can reduce the amount of oxygen getting to the eye, which causes vision issues that may not be accompanied by any other signs of a stroke.
A sudden change in vision, particularly in only one eye, can signal a lack of blood flow to the eye, suggesting a pre-stroke, or Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA), which is often a sign of an impending stroke. People have described the vision change as suddenly seeing through a window shade, or looking at a photographic negative. Any sudden eye change should be treated as a potential warning sign of a stroke.
Fatigue and malaise
Some signs of stroke are more common in women. Women may have symptoms subtle enough to be missed or brushed off in the daily juggle of work-life balance. There is a lack of research into why women experience different symptoms, but experts suspect hormones could be at play. For example, According to the American Stroke Association, the pill can double your chances of having a stroke, and hormone replacement therapy can increase risk too.
They might start with fatigue, confusion, or perhaps general weakness, as opposed to weakness on one side of the body. Women may dismiss difficulty walking, exhaustion, brain fog, or an overall malaise and instead blame it on stress or being overworked. Nausea or vomiting often gets explained away to viral illnesses. However, hesitating to get medical attention for any of these suspicious symptoms could lead to increased brain damage from stroke – so don’t be afraid to cause a ‘false alarm’.
You might be tempted to minimize a fainting spell, but it could be a stroke. Women tend to suffer strokes to the back of the brain more often than men. Known as posterior circulation strokes, they cut off blood flow to the occipital lobes, brainstem, cerebellum, and part of the temporal lobe. The top of the brainstem is where the consciousness center lies, and cutting blood flow to this part of the brain can lead to fainting.
Hiccups, combined with atypical chest pain, can be among the early stroke symptoms in women. Hiccups are consistent with posterior circulation problems from the brainstem, which controls functions like swallowing and the drive to breathe. Don’t go calling 9-1-1 every time you get hiccups, but if something doesn’t seem right, or hiccups occur with other symptoms, it might be a sign of something more.
Headaches such as migraines with visual disturbances are more common in women. According to the American College of Cardiology, having migraines with the visual disturbances known as auras is a risk factor for stroke. Migraines are known to constrict brain blood vessels, something that could contribute to cutting off blood supply to the brain, which increases the risk of stroke.
A recent study found that Doctors often overlook or discount early signs of potentially disabling strokes in tens of thousands of Americans each year. A large number of missed strokes occur in visitors to ER, who complain of dizziness or headaches but are sent home. The research showed that women, minorities, and people under the age of 45 are significantly more likely to be misdiagnosed.
No signs at all
A study of middle-aged people with no apparent signs of stroke found that about 10% had brain damage from one. If you have a silent stroke, you probably won’t know it unless you happen to have a brain scan and the damage shows up. You may have slight memory problems or a little difficulty getting around, but these are often written off as normal signs of aging. A doctor may be able to see signs of silent strokes without testing.
How to prevent strokes with good habits
Your chances of getting a stroke go up if you have high blood pressure or irregular heartbeat. Changes to the way you live can help lower your odds of stroke and heart disease. Make a plan to adopt these healthy habits:
- Keep tabs on your blood pressure and get it under control if it’s too high
- Check your cholesterol
- Keep your blood sugar at a healthy level
- If you smoke, quit
- Eat a healthy diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits, veggies, and whole grains.
- Cut back on unhealthy fats, salt, and sugar
- Get regular exercise
- Keep your weight in check
A little knowledge and prevention can go a long way in preventing major damage from stroke.
-The UpWellness Team