Vanderbilt Clinical Neurosciences

Stroke Warning Signs and Risk Factors


Warning Signs

The symptoms of a stroke depend on the part of the brain affected and the size of the damage. Stroke symptoms are sudden and typically painless.

Any one of these symptoms is a medical emergency:

  • Weakness, numbness or tingling in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Having a hard time speaking or understanding
  • Trouble seeing with one or both eyes
  • Severe headache, dizziness, confusion or personality changes
  • Having a hard time swallowing
  • Loss of bowel and bladder control
  • Passing out
  • Ignoring or forgetting the weak or affected side of the body.


Risk Factors

You are more likely to have a stroke if you have:

  • Chronic high blood pressure (greater than 140/90 mmHg taken after 5 minutes of sitting down)
  • Heart disease (such as irregular heart rhythm right-to-left shunt or history of heart attacks)
  • Diabetes mellitus (high blood sugar)
  • High cholesterol level
  • Hardening of the arteries due to cholesterol deposits
  • A tobacco habit (particularly cigarette smoking)
  • Family or personal history of stroke
  • Too much extra weight (obesity)
  • A sedentary lifestyle, which means you exercise less than 3 hours a week
  • Advanced age
  • Have had a TIA or prior stroke
  • A habit of drinking too much alcohol
  • Lack of certain vitamins
  • Blood disorders (such as Sickle Cell disease or a disease with a tendency to form clots)
  • Illegal drug use
     

Reducing Risks

You can reduce the risk of a stroke by making these changes:

  • If you have high blood pressure (hypertension), you must control it with medicine. A low-salt diet is also important.
  • If you smoke, quit. Ask your health care provider for options.
  • Exercise daily for 30 minutes or more. Walking is usually the safest exercise, unless you have problems with balance that may cause you to fall. Do not skip days.
  • If you have diabetes, monitor and control the blood sugar level with diet and medicine.
  • Eat foods low in fat, salt and cholesterol to reduce the risk of clogging your blood vessels. Lower your cholesterol levels with diet, medicine or exercise.
  • If you're overweight, talk to your health care provider about weight control options.
  • Don't drink more than one drink of alcohol a day, especially if you have leg weakness or balance problems.
  • Follow your doctor's orders for rehab after a stroke.
  • Recreation is important to manage stress. Learn to relax and avoid stress in your life.
  • Get regular medical checkups. Follow your doctor's advice for good health habits.

 

Call 911

If you are having symptoms of a stroke, or see someone else having them, don’t wait. Get to the nearest emergency room right away.

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