The 5 Sudden Symptoms of a Stroke


Each year, the American Stroke Association estimates of the 800,000 people in the United States who have a stroke, 600,000 have never had a stroke before. The American Stroke Association and St. Elizabeth Healthcare believe the only way to reduce that number is to work together and educate the community.

“The one word to remember when it comes to recognizing a stroke is ‘sudden’,” says Dr. James Farrell, Neurologist with St. Elizabeth Physicians and Medical Director of the St. Elizabeth Stroke program.

The 5 symptoms of stroke are:

  1. SUDDEN weakness of your face, arm or leg. Try to lift both and see if one side is weak.
  2. SUDDEN onset of blurred vision. If you have trouble seeing out of one or both eyes or see double.
  3. SUDDEN dizziness. Especially with difficulty walking or loss of balance.
  4. SUDDEN difficulty speaking. Slurred speech, confusion or difficulty understanding.
  5. SUDDEN severe headache. If you have a severe headache for an unknown reason.

If you or someone you love has any of the symptoms, CALL 911 IMMEDIATELY.

Treatment for Stroke

The most important factor in treating a stroke is getting medical care quickly. The sooner you get emergency medical treatment, the more options the doctors have to treat your stroke.

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries blood through the brain is either blocked by a clot or ruptures. When that happens, the brain cannot get the blood it needs, so the brain cells can die. If the stroke is caused by a clot, it is called an ischemic stroke. Ischemic strokes make up 87 percent of all strokes. A hemorrhagic stroke is when a weakened blood vessel ruptures and bleeds into the brain.

In recent years, medical advances have increased the treatment options for patients having an ischemic stroke. Dr. Farrell describes the new options, “The gold standard for treatment is using a tPA, a thrombolytic to help dissolve the clot. The key is, you have to give the tPA within 4.5 hours of the onset of symptoms.”

He added, “Now, through a collaboration with the University of Cincinnati, the patient may be eligible for a thrombectomy. In a thrombectomy, an interventionalist can use a device to remove the clot.”

The procedure is used primarily to remove clots in larger vessels that may not respond well to intravenous tPA. Until now, these clots had to be taken out within 6 hours of symptoms onset. The good news this year is the extension of the time window to have this procedure. A thrombectomy can now be done within 24 hours of onset of symptoms if newer scanning techniques show the patient to be a good candidate for the procedure. If the clot is successfully removed and no permanent damage has been done to the brain tissue, stroke symptoms could be reversed.

“You still need to get the patient to the closest stroke center. You need to receive the tPA as early as possible. Each patient also needs a full assessment to see if the clot is in a large artery before being transferred to the University of Cincinnati,” says Dr. Farrell.

Preventing a Stroke

Someone in the United States has a stroke every 40 seconds. It is not only the leading cause of adult disability in the United States—it is the number 5 cause of death. Yet, 80 percent of initial strokes may be preventable.

Dr. Farrell says, “Stroke shares a lot of the same risk factors as the number one cause of death in the United States—heart disease. So you associate that with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes.”

According to Dr. Farrell, if you want to lower your risk of a first stroke by 80 percent by following these simple lifestyle tips:

  • Quit smoking.
  • Maintain a normal weight.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Limit alcohol intake.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • And then, visit your doctor. In addition to controlling high cholesterol, diabetes or high blood pressure, your doctor can also detect an abnormal heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation, which can also cause a stroke.

Kentucky is one of the 9 southeastern states the Center for Disease Control named the “stroke belt” due to the high incident of stroke in region. Dr. Farrell says, “The best way to save lives, other than prevention, is to know the 5 sudden onset symptoms and to call 911 immediately. Getting emergency care immediately could not only save a person’s lives but decrease the chance of having a long-term disability.“

St. Elizabeth Healthcare facilities are certified as stroke ready and as primary stroke centers, which means patients brought to the emergency room are quickly assessed and treated 24 hours a day by a stroke team.

You can get a screening for vascular disease for $25 on the St. Elizabeth Healthcare CardioVascular Mobile Health Unit. The 10-minute ultrasound exam looks for cholesterol plaques, which may influence your doctor’s treatment. To reserve your screening time call (859) 301-9355 (WELL).