A stroke is similar to a lightning strike—it can occur suddenly and without warning. However, if you think about lightning, oftentimes there are signs that lightning is imminent, such as storm clouds, rain, thunder, distant light flashes, tingling skin or your hair standing on end.
Warning signs can signal a stroke, too. If you spot them and act quickly, you may prevent severe disability or death. Seek emergency medical treatment immediately if you or someone around you shows any of these symptoms:
- sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
- sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
- sudden, severe headache with no known cause
These signs point to a stroke in progress. Blood and oxygen are not getting to a part of the brain as a result of a burst blood vessel or a blood clot, and that portion of the brain begins to die. Speedy medical care may minimize brain damage.
Because a stroke results from cardiovascular disease, which develops over time, you likely have other symptoms or risk factors for stroke. Lifestyle factors and other health conditions that weaken blood vessels or contribute to blood clots increase your risk for stroke. You can control or treat some of them, such as high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, carotid or other artery disease, abnormal heart rhythm, transient ischemic attacks (mini-strokes), certain blood disorders, sickle cell disease, high blood cholesterol, high triglycerides, physical inactivity, obesity and substance abuse.
Factors you cannot change include increasing age, gender (men are at higher risk than women), family history, race (African-Americans face greater risk) and having had a prior stroke or heart attack. Talk to your doctor about ways to reduce your risk for stroke and be prepared to act quickly when you hear thunder.