A stroke occurs when blood flow to an area of the brain is suddenly cut off. The brain cells get deprived of oxygen and begin to die quickly. Having a stroke is a scary thought, but you can be mindful of your health to reduce the chances of having one.
Stroke signs often occur hours — or even days — before the actual attack. Read on to learn about the symptoms that could signal you’re about to have a stroke.
Maybe you ate too fast and hiccups ensure — that’s not so scary. But a sudden onset of relentless, painful hiccups can indicate a stroke on the way, according to Ohio State University’s Director of Neuroscience Diana Greene-Chandos, M.D.
Experts associate hiccuping with a specific stroke that occurs in the back of the brain (instead of the top), which is more common in women. But no matter your gender, take severe hiccups seriously, especially if they’re associated with other stroke symptoms.
2. Severe headache
When a headache — a less common sign — does signal a stroke, it’s usually a “thunderclap” headache. These come on suddenly and will likely be the most painful headache you’ve ever had.
Thunderclap headaches are also a common sign of a brain aneurysm, so seek medical attention immediately if you experience one. If your headache accompanies any of the “BE FAST” signs, which we’ll outline on page 4, it could be a stroke.
Many people recognize slurring your words as a stroke sign. But losing your place in a conversation or forgetting what the other person just said can also signal the disease.
People often mistake confusion for nothing more than a “senior moment,” which is why it often doesn’t cause alarm. However, if you experience confusion along with any other stroke symptoms, seek medical attention.
4. Difficulty swallowing
Another less common symptom is difficulty swallowing, which is typically caused by paralysis of the throat muscles. This is most common just after a stroke, but it can also happen beforehand. Throat paralysis is usually temporary, but not if you wait too long to get help.
5. Agitated behavior
Your irritation could indicate more than just a bad mood or PMS. Doctors call it an “altered mental status,” and it’s a common “nontraditional” symptom. In one study, “About 23 percent of women and 15 percent of men reported altered mental status related to stroke,” according to Healthline.
If restlessness and agitation occur with other stroke symptoms, you should take it more seriously.
Medical experts created an acronym “BE FAST” to help people remember the symptoms of a stroke. Each letter stands for a symptom. The most important part to understand: When two or more signs occur together, it’s even more likely to be a stroke.
The “B” in “BE FAST” stands for balance. If you suddenly feel off balance, it could be a sign of a stroke. Balance issues include being unable to walk in a straight line or touch your finger to your nose. Problems with balance can also occur after you’ve had a stroke.
Vision trouble is often one of the earliest signs of a stroke. If you suddenly have double vision or can’t see at all, it’s a strong indicator that something is troubling your brain, such as a lack of oxygen. With a stroke, blindness is more common in one eye than both.
8. Face drooping
A telltale sign that something is wrong, a sudden droopy face can be scary to witness. If you experience droopiness in your face or numbness on one side, you should seek medical attention asap. An uneven smile is most easily recognized of all the facial symptoms.
9. Arm weakness
Weakness in one arm — specifically, the inability to raise both arms at once — is especially common among those who suffer from a stroke. Victims often experience temporary paralysis on one side of the body. It’s important to seek help as soon as possible; if enough brain cells die, you could suffer permanent paralysis.
10. Speech difficulty
Difficulty forming sentences is another sign something is affecting your brain. Cognitive skills like holding a conversation can suddenly become difficult when you’re about to suffer from a stroke. Slurred speech often occurs right before a stroke, too.
11. Time to call 911
The final part of “BE FAST” is to call 911. If someone shows any of these signs — especially more than one sign — you must seek help immediately. Again, signs of a stroke can occur a while before the actual attack hits. The sooner you get help, the better.
The brain has 22 billion neurons; about 1.9 million of them die each minute during a stroke. It is imperative to get help as soon as possible to avoid serious long-term effects or death.
That’s the full “BE FAST” acronym: balance, eyes, face drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty, time to call 911.
12. About half of all Americans have one or more stroke risk factors
General stroke risk factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, and family history. Diabetes can cause damage to blood vessels, which puts diabetics at an especially high risk for things like heart attack and stroke.
As you get older, more health problems like high blood pressure and high cholesterol arise. About 50% of Americans have at least one factor that could contribute to a stroke.
13. Strokes kill about 140,000 people each year
Although a whopping 795,000 people suffer from a stroke every year, most of them survive. However, according to the CDC, close to 18% do not. It’s important to recognize the early signs of stroke in order to give yourself the best chance of survival. About 80% of strokes are preventable if you properly manage your health and become aware of stroke symptoms.
14. Race is an unsuspecting factor in strokes
While certain factors like high blood pressure and age are pretty well-known risk factors, race is actually a significant risk factor, too. According to the CDC, black people are actually twice as likely to suffer from a stroke as white people. Also, black people have the highest rate of death due to stroke compared to any other race.
While there has been an overall decline in stroke-related deaths in recent decades, Hispanics have seen an increased death rate since 2013.
15. Strokes are more common in women than men
Every year, about 55,000 more women have strokes than men. Stroke is the third leading cause of death for women and the fifth leading cause of death for men. According to stroke.org, taking birth control pills, being pregnant, and using hormone replacement therapy are all factors unique to women that can increase stroke risk. Surprisingly, migraines can also increase a woman’s stroke risk by two and a half times.
However, it’s still important to note that hundreds of thousands of men have a stroke each year, too.
16. If you have a stroke, you’re at risk of having another
It’s quite common to have more than one stroke. Of the roughly 795,000 strokes each year, about 185,000 are in people who have suffered a previous stroke. Within five years of a stroke, about 24% of women and 42% of men will experience a second stroke. Similar to first-time strokes, about 80% of recurrent strokes are preventable with proper care and knowledge of signs and symptoms.