You're probably familiar with the classic signs of a heart attack (pressure or squeezing sensation in chest, radiating to left arm and/or jaw, worsened with exertion, relieved with rest, associated with shortness of breath). You probably know what to do, too: Go immediately to the ER.
Do you know the signs of a stroke?
An article in today's NYTimes outlines the key symptoms:
"[N]o matter what a person's age, the sudden appearance of any of the following symptoms should prompt a trip to the hospital as quickly as possible.
- Numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.
- Confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech.
- Trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
- Difficulty walking, dizziness or loss of balance or coordination.
- Sudden, severe headache with no known cause.
Columnist Jane Brody points out that "Unlike a heart attack, most strokes are painless. Even if the initial symptoms dissipate they must be taken seriously."Stroke is sometimes missed by physicians. Whatever your age, if you have the above-mentioned symptoms, Brody advises you "insist on a thorough work-up [that includes an MRI scan of head] and ask to be seen by a neurologist."
Many strokes are amenable to treatment that mitigates the brain damage and improves long-term outcome, but only if given within the first 3-4 hours after symptom onset. With such a small window of opportunity, it's better to be safe than sorry.
Maybe we need to start calling a stroke a "brain attack."