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Stroke: Warning Signs and Symptoms

Stroke: Warning Signs and Symptoms

Jan. 22nd, 2022

Stroke is ranked as the fifth leading cause of death in the United States.1 More than 700,000 Americans have a stroke each year.2

Strokes typically have distinguishable symptoms and require immediate medical attention. It’s important to know the signs and symptoms of a stroke in order to seek help for you or your loved ones in case of emergency.

What is a Stroke?

Your brain controls many different functions in the body such as breathing, digestion, movements, emotions, and speech. In order for the brain to properly work, it needs oxygen. Oxygen-rich blood is delivered to all parts of the brain by the arteries.

A stroke occurs when one of the blood vessels in the brain that carries blood is blocked or bursts.3 When there is a halt in the flow of blood, brain cells begin to die because of the lack of oxygen. This causes parts of the brain to become damaged or dead, causing long-term disability or death.

There are different types of strokes that people may experience.4

  • Ischemic Stroke. Ischemic strokes, also known as a clot, make up 87% of strokes and is the most common type. It occurs when a vessel that carries blood to the brain is obstructed due to fatty deposits lining the vessel walls.5
  • Hemorrhagic Stroke. Hemorrhagic strokes, also known as bleeds, make up about 13% of strokes that occur. This happens when a weakened vessel ruptures and causing bleeding in the brain.6
  • Transient Ischemic Attack. Transient ischemic attacks, also known as mini-strokes, don’t cause permanent damage; therefore, they’re often ignored. However, transient ischemic attacks can signal a full stroke later down the road. This type of stroke causes temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain.7
  • Cryptogenic Stroke. A cryptogenic stroke is a stroke where the cause is unknown. In some cases, the cause of the stroke cannot be found despite the testing that is performed.8
  • Brain Stem Stroke. A brain stem stroke can have complex symptoms such as vertigo, double vision, and imbalance. This type of stroke can be caused by a clot or hemorrhage.9

Signs and Symptoms of a Stroke

If you or a loved one experience a stroke or start to notice symptoms, one of the main concerns is to pay attention to the time when the symptoms began. This helps when it comes to seeking medical attention and receiving treatment as soon as possible.10

Some of the signs of a stroke include:

  • Trouble understanding others or talking
  • Numbness in the face, arms, or legs
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of balance or coordination11

Use the FAST Test to help determine if you or a loved one just experienced a stroke:

  • Face – Smile to check if one side of the face droops
  • Arms – When raising both arms, check if one of the arms drops
  • Speech – Check for slurred words or speech when talking
  • Time – If you encounter any of these issues, call 911 and document the time when the symptoms began12

Treatment and Recovery

The treatment and recovery process after a stroke can look different for everyone. The faster an individual receives treatment after a stroke, the better. However, strokes aren’t always easy to recognize, especially if someone lives alone.

Strokes can impact an individual’s language, cognition, motor skills, and sensory skills.2 Recovering from a stroke and gaining these skills back can be a strenuous process. It takes time, patience, and help from medical professionals.

It’s unknown as to how the brain exactly recovers after a stroke, but there are a few ideas:

  • The brain can resume functioning by changing the way someone performs tasks
  • If brain cells are damaged instead of destroyed, these cells can resume functioning over time
  • Another area of the brain may take control of the functions that the affected area once did2

As far as the recovery timeline for patients who experienced a stroke, these are the typical steps taken.13

  1. After experiencing a stroke, the individual will be admitted into the emergency department. Medical professionals will monitor them and perform an analysis to determine the type of stroke. Depending on the severity, some people may spend time in intensive care.
  2. The typical length of a hospital stay following a stroke is five to seven days. Medical professionals will evaluate a patient, the effects of the stroke, and determine a rehabilitation plan as necessary.
  3. Patients will work with occupational and physical therapists to determine which parts of the brain were affected, as well as how much therapy will be needed. Speech therapy is sometimes necessary for those who have trouble swallowing or talking.
  4. After being dismissed from the hospital, a patient’s rehabilitation will continue in a rehabilitation facility where the patient can receive care from nurses and a rehab team. They may be able to return home and visit an outpatient rehab clinic as needed.

As with recovery for many medical conditions, patients may encounter a few setbacks, including pneumonia, a heart attack, or a second stroke. It’s significant to work with doctors and therapists to adjust to setbacks if they were to occur.

Stroke Prevention

There are certain factors that put people more at risk for having a stroke, including older age or having an immediate family member who also experienced one.14

However, there are also some ways to potentially avoid having a stroke.

  • Manage your blood pressure. High blood pressure is a huge factor when it comes to people who experience strokes, as it doubles (or more) your chance of having one. Try to maintain a healthy blood pressure by reducing salt intake, increasing consumption of healthy fats, and eating fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy. Regular exercise as well as avoiding smoking can also help keep your blood pressure healthy.
  • Drink in moderation. Drinking an excessive amount of alcohol increases your risk of having a stroke. One glass of red wine may aid in brain and heart health due to resveratrol, which comes from the skin of grapes and helps prevent damage to blood vessels. If you are at risk for a stroke, talk with your doctor about your drinking habits and avoid drinking heavily.15
  • Treat atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat that can cause clots to form in the heart. Once the clots travel to the brain, it causes a stroke. If you notice heart palpitations or shortness of breath, talk with your doctor. If you have this medical condition, make sure to treat it.
  • Treat diabetes. High blood sugar damages blood vessels over time, making clots more likely to form. To avoid this, keep your blood sugar under control if you have diabetes. Monitor your blood sugar, eat a healthy diet, take your medicine, and exercise.
  • Don’t smoke. Smoking can significantly increase your risk of a stroke because it initiates clotting. Smoking can thicken your blood and cause plaque buildup in the arteries, both of which can cause a stroke.

Know the Warning Signs of a Stroke

Strokes are severe and require medical attention immediately. Discuss the signs of a stroke with your loved ones to ensure they are aware and know how to seek medical attention when needed.

Here at Saber Healthcare, our physical, occupational, and speech therapists work daily with residents to achieve their goals and reach their highest level of functioning. To learn more about what we do and the services we provide, click here.

Saber Healthcare is an organization dedicated to providing consultant services to long term care providers. This article is for informational purposes and is not meant to be seen as professional advice. Please consult with a medical expert before relying on the information provided.

  1. “About Stroke.” American Heart Association, Accessed January 12th, 2022.
  2. Delgado, Amanda. “Stroke Recovery: What to Expect.” Healthline Media, June 7th, 2018. Accessed January 12th, 2022.
  3. “About Stroke.” U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. August 2nd, 2021. Accessed January 12th, 2022.
  4. Nall, Rachel. “What Are the Different Types of Strokes?” Healthline Media, September 20th, 2018. Accessed January 12th, 2022.
  5. “Ischemic Strokes (Clots).” American Heart Association, Accessed January 12th, 2022.
  6. “Hemorrhagic Strokes (Bleeds).” American Heart Association, Accessed January 12th, 2022.
  7. “Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA).” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Mayo Clinic. Accessed January 13th, 2022.,attack%20may%20be%20a%20warning.
  8. “Why Doesn’t the Mysterious Cryptogenic Stroke Have an Apparent Cause?” Cleveland Clinic, Health Essentials. January 6th, 2022. Accessed January 13th, 2022.
  9. “Brain Stem Stroke.” American Heart Association, Accessed January 12th, 2022.
  10. “Stroke.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Mayo Clinic. February 9th, 2021. Accessed January 12th, 2022.
  11. “6 Signs of a Stroke.” The Regents of The University of California, UCSF Health. Accessed January 12th, 2022.
  12. Khatri, Minesh. “The Warning Signs of Stroke.” WebMD, November 24th, 2019. Accessed January 12th, 2022.
  13. Pruski, April. “Stroke Recovery Timeline.” The Johns Hopkins University, The Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Johns Hopkins Health System, Accessed January 12th, 2022.
  14. “7 things you can do to prevent a stroke.” The President and Fellows of Harvard College, Harvard Health Publishing. June 26th, 2020. Accessed January 12th, 2022.
  15. “Red wine and resveratrol: Good for your heart?” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Mayo Clinic. October 22nd, 2019. Accessed January 12th, 2022.