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Warning Symptoms

Typically, many think of stroke as a disease affecting only elderly persons, particularly men. This is not the case at all. Stoke can strike an individual of any age, race, or gender. As people age, the risk for stroke increases, but the warning signs of stroke are something that everyone should know.

A person who suddenly experiences one or more of the following symptoms may be having a stroke: (1) weakness or numbness of the face, arm, or leg; (2) loss or slurring of speech; (3) loss or blurring of vision; (4) a sensation of motion (vertigo); (5) difficulty with balance; (6) unusual or severe headache. The sudden onset of any one or more of these symptoms requires immediate action. Stroke is a medical emergency and must be treated accordingly. The sooner medical help is obtained the better the chances for surviving a stroke.

Symptoms of stroke usually occur within seconds. If the symptoms come on quickly and disappear just as quickly, a doctor should be contacted. If the symptoms still persist after fifteen minutes, the person should be taken to the emergency department of the nearest hospital where a specialist can assess the symptoms.

Symptoms of migraine headaches can sometimes be confused with symptoms of stroke. The key difference in the onset of symptoms lies in the timing. Migraine symptoms usually progress over minutes, whereas stroke symptoms occur in mere seconds. Timing is a critical factor in assessing stroke.

Transient ischemic attacks, more commonly known as TIAs, are a crucial warning sign of an impending stroke. The symptoms of a TIA are exactly the same as of a stroke; the only difference is that the symptoms usually disappear within fifteen minutes. Just because a symptom goes away does not mean that the person is not at risk. TIAs can indicate that the brain is having difficulty receiving the required amount of blood and the person is therefore more likely to have a stroke. Immediate diagnosis of symptoms can drastically reduce the chance of a stroke. Having a TIA does not mean a person will definitely have a stroke, but it is a key indicator that medical attention is needed.

Heart attack can be associated with stroke. The term ‘‘brain attack’’ was invented to advise people that the stroke is serious and that urgent medical attention is required. The most common cause of heart attack is also the most common cause of stroke. Hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis) impedes blood flow and can create blood clots, leading to either heart attack or stroke. People who suffer a stroke may also suffer a heart attack, and vice versa. One reason for this may be that people who have either a stroke or a heart attack, have common risk factors for atherosclerosis, such as family history, high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol, or homocystenemia.

There are three major differences between heart attack and stroke. First, there are many more causes of stroke than of heart attack. Second, heart attack is more easily diagnosed by either an electrocardiogram or a cardiac enzyme test, whereas images of the brain may not show any changes in the brain until hours after the onset of stroke symptoms. As a result, the diagnosis of stroke relies heavily on clinical judgment.

Last, chest pains (angina) are a clear indication of an impending heart attack. The greater the chest pain, the greater the problem. This is not the case with stroke. Whether a person has one TIA or several, the risk of stroke is the same. Preexisting conditions and risk factors contribute more to the chance of stroke than does how often TIAs occur.

Some other medical conditions can mimic stroke; for instance, the shearing of the artery within the skull or a brain tumor can create symptoms that may at first appear to be those of a stroke. Clinical diagnosis by a physician is the only way to determine if a person has had a stroke.

Additional topics

Medicine EncyclopediaAging Healthy - Part 4Stroke - Causes Of Ischemic Stroke, Causes Of Hemorrhagic Stroke, Areas Of The Brain And Effects Of Damage