For all the differences between ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes, from onset to treatment, they are alike in their symptoms. The symptoms of a stroke are:
- Sudden weakness or numbness in the face or extremities
- Sudden problems with speech or comprehension
- Sudden issues with vision, such as blurriness or blindness
- Sudden coordination issues, including dizziness or difficulty walking
- Sudden severe headache
- Sudden nausea or vomiting
The key word you might notice in all these symptoms is "sudden." That's a huge tip-off that the symptom might be related to a stroke. Otherwise, many of these symptoms might seem like something else. You may just write off a headache accompanied by blurry vision as a bad migraine. Some stroke symptoms don't necessarily "hurt" the way other symptoms do, like chest pain hurts a heart attack victim. Many people try to ignore these symptoms and hope that they'll go away, but this is an extremely serious mistake.
Once these symptoms appear, the clock has started. Brain cells are dying rapidly, and for ischemic strokes, there's a very small window for certain treatments. If a person goes to bed hoping to sleep off a sudden headache, then they're wasting valuable time.
Sometimes you may receive advance notice of a major stroke in the form of a mini-stroke, more properly known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA). About 10 percent of all strokes are preceded by a mini-stroke [source: Wheatcraft]. Everything from the blocked blood flow to the bodily symptoms occurs, but for a very short time with no lasting effects. Even though the symptoms disappear on their own, you should still head to the hospital for evaluation. A major stroke could be on its way, either in a matter of days or in a few years. Doctors may determine that surgery can be performed to open slightly obstructed arteries, or they may do something as simple as prescribe an aspirin a day, which can help prevent clots by thinning the blood.
It may be hard for a stroke sufferer to know that they're experiencing
a stroke. An observer who can witness symptoms like facial drooping can ask questions to determine mental and verbal capacities. If you're on your own, don't ignore any sudden symptoms. A stroke feels different for everyone, but we can offer a few descriptions of how others have described it. One stroke victim felt that she'd been given a shot of Novocain to the left side of her body, while another person couldn't recognize the alphabet [source: Meadows]. Though this may not be typical, one woman said she reached nirvana during her stroke because her spirit felt so free from her body [source: Kaufman].
In the case of a stroke, it's better to be safe than sorry. People with these symptoms should be driven to the nearest stroke center, which is not necessarily the closest emergency room. Certified stroke centers will have the equipment and personnel that can make a quick decision about the patient's condition, which may be prohibitively expensive in smaller hospitals. In 2007, however, only 322 of the 4,280 accredited hospitals in the United States were certified as stroke centers [source: Kolata]. If a patient does end up in an emergency room, it's important to be aggressive about being seen by a doctor as soon as possible, even if the symptoms don't seem dramatic.
What happens when you arrive at a stroke center, and why is time so important? Find out about diagnosing and treating a stroke on the next page.