Signs of stroke

By: Alison Dunn Feb 28, 2011
  Article

The sooner strokes are treated, the more likely a recovery. Do you know the warning signs?

With February being heart health month, it’s natural to focus on heart attacks – and learn how to spot them so the victim has a better chance of surviving. But heart attacks aren’t the only danger of poor heart health. Do you know how to spot the signs of stroke as well?

A stroke and a heart attack are not the same, but both can have drastic consequences. A heart attack is when the blood supply to the heart is slowed or stopped because of a blockage. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, sometimes heart attacks won’t lead to full-blown cardiac arrest (i.e. when the heart stops beating). Other times, the heart does completely stop and the person stops breathing. Both can be dangerous, and if cardiac arrest isn’t treated immediately, it can lead to death.

Stroke, on the other hand, is slightly different. A stroke is a sudden loss of brain function caused either when the flow of blood to the brain is stopped (known as an ischemic stroke) or the blood vessels in the brain are ruptured (called a hemorrhagic stroke). Once that blood flow to the brain is interrupted, brain cells in the area die. The Heart and Stroke Foundation says the effects of a stroke depend on where the brain was injured, as well as how much damage occurred. While it may not always result in death, a stroke can impact your ability to move, see, remember, speak, reason, read, write and more.

The five signs of stroke

Research has shown that the sooner a stroke victim seeks medical attention, the more likely he or she is to survive. In fact, if it is a stroke caused by a blood clot, doctors can administer a clot-busting drug within a few hours to ensure a speedy recovery. That drug, however, is available only at a hospital, and only within a few crucial hours after stroke symptoms begin.

That’s why it’s critical everyone become educated on the five signs of stroke. Not sure what they are? Here’s a guide from the Heart and Stroke Foundation:

1. Weakness – Watch for a sudden loss of strength or sudden numbness in the face, arm or leg, even if it’s just temporary.

2. Trouble speaking – If you spot someone who has sudden difficulty speaking or understanding or sudden confusion, even if temporary, it could be a stroke.

3. Vision problems – Look out for sudden trouble with vision, even if temporary.

4. Headache – Any sudden, severe and unusual headache can indicate stroke.

5. Dizziness - Sudden loss of balance, especially with any of the above signs, could mean a stroke.

If you spot one or more of these signs of stroke, the best thing to do is call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number immediately.

A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.