Stroke, also known as Cerebrovascular Accident (CVA) is a fatal condition that is characterized by a lack or shortage of blood supply to some parts of the brain, leading to the death of affected brain tissues. Broadly, two major types of stroke have been identified — ischaemic which accounts for about 87% of cases and haemorrhagic which accounts for the remaining 13%. In the ischaemic type, there is an obstruction in the blood vessels supplying parts of the brain, leading to an interruption in the blood supply to those parts. Haemorrhagic stroke is due to rupture of important blood vessels leading to bleeding into the brain parenchyma or cerebrospinal fluid.
Hypertension is a major risk factor for stroke. Also, other important risk factors include smoking, diabetes mellitus, obesity, hypercholesterolemia as well as a previous stroke or Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA). Furthermore, it’s interesting to note that like a map, every part of the body is intricately represented on the brain such that different body parts are controlled by the corresponding areas in the brain. The import of this is that the signs of stroke an individual will experience depend largely on the region of brain affected.
Statistically, the health burden of Cerebrovascular Accident cannot be overstressed. Every 40 seconds, someone suffers a stroke. Also, stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States and about 775000 Americans suffer a stroke annually.
Despite the poor prognosis in stroke, if patients heed early warning signs and visit a health facility for prompt evaluation and intervention, the outcome is likely to be better.
Discussed below are some of the warning signs that should prompt you to go for an immediate check-up for stroke at the hospital:
Numbness, weakness or complete paralysis of the limbs
If you experience numbness, weakness or outright paralysis of your arm or leg, especially if one side of the body is affected, stroke may be looming. It’s an alarm sign for you to seek further evaluation at the hospital.
Drooping or numbness of the face
This may manifest as loss of ability to keep one or both eyelids open (ptosis) as well as drooling of saliva from the angle of the mouth. In addition, facial asymmetry may be readily observed, more conspicuous whenever you smile. More still, there could be numbness or loss of sensation on the affected side of the face. Do not ignore these signs as they may be pointers to an impending stroke.
Slurring of speech
Inability to talk or slurring of speech is another manifestation of stroke. If you have observed that your speech is suddenly jumbled and hard to understand as if your tongue was twisted, you need to see a doctor.
Poor vision may also be an early manifestation of stroke. It may occur as a sudden loss or blurring of vision. Some patients liken the experience to when a curtain is drawn across their field of vision and they can no longer see well after that. Others may experience double vision (diplopia)
Severe unexplained headache
Some patients with impending or full-blown stroke may suffer a severe throbbing headache that cannot be explained and often describe it as the worst headache in their lifetime. However, this is more common in the haemorrhagic type.
Loss of consciousness
If a person suddenly starts feeling dizzy, light-headed and loses consciousness, it may be a pointer to stroke. There may or may not be associated convulsions. Sudden loss of consciousness is a medical emergency and there should be no form of delay in transferring the affected person to the hospital for urgent evaluation and treatment. Every second counts!
Difficulty with swallowing
When the blood supply to the area of the brain that coordinates swallowing is compromised, the involuntary part of the swallowing process is affected. The implication of this is that swallowing becomes difficult, if not impossible (dysphagia)
Loss of Balance or Coordination
The cerebellum is the part of the brain chiefly responsible for maintaining the walking gait, balance and coordination of body movements. Understandably, if the blood supply to the cerebellum is cut off, all these vital functions may be lost.
In conclusion, it is very important to note that even though these symptoms disappear on their own within a few minutes to hours, you must still go and complain to your doctor. You may have suffered a Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA) which increases your likelihood of developing a full-blown stroke later on.