There are two primary kinds of stroke. An ischaemic stroke means blocked blood vessels are causing a reduction in blood flow in the brain. A haemorrhagic stroke means a ruptured blood vessel is leaking blood in the brain. Symptoms for both kinds of stroke can be similar or vary, depending on which part of the brain is affected. It’s important to call an ambulance as soon as you notice any potential signs of trouble.
1. You think exhaustion is making you see double.
Vision problems like seeing double, blurriness, or loss of sight in one eye can be a sign of a stroke. “Seeing two images is very unusual for just being tired or reading too much,” says stroke specialist Dr Carolyn Brockington from New York’s Mount Sinai Roosevelt Hospital. A blocked blood vessel can reduce the amount of oxygen getting to the eye, which causes vision issues that may not be accompanied by any other signs of stroke.
2. You think your arm is numb because it “just fell asleep”.
If you wake up from a nap and your arm or leg is numb, it’s easy to assume it’s due to a compressed nerve. “If your arm is suddenly numb or weak, and it doesn’t go away in a few minutes, call an ambulance,” says Professor Ralph Sacco, a neurology specialist at the University of Miami. Decreased blood flow through the arteries that run up your spine to the back of your head causes numbness or weakness on one side of the body.
3. You think that “it’s on the tip of my tongue” feeling is due to being tired.
Sudden cognitive deficits are a common sign of stroke. “You might struggle to think of a word every once in a while, but there shouldn’t be a long period of time where you can’t think of anything to say or be unable to speak,” says Brockington.
4. You assume alcohol is behind your wobbliness.
“People think they’re having balance issues because they had a drink, but see if that makes sense,” says Brockington. “You won’t have delayed balance problems, so a drink from earlier in the day probably isn’t to blame. It could be from a decrease in blood flow to the brain.” Even if you had a few drinks earlier, if you suddenly start to stumble, can’t walk straight, or experience sudden dizziness, don’t wait for it to pass; call an ambulance straight away.
5. You blame slurred speech on your medication.
“Some medicines, like painkillers, can cause slurred speech,” says Sacco. But if that’s not a side effect you usually experience, you might be having a stroke and should seek help immediately, he says.
6. You chalk that blinding headache up to a migraine.
It might just be a migraine, but if you’re not prone to them, it could be a stroke. “Strokes can masquerade as migraine headaches because they have the same neurological symptoms,” says Sacco. “I tell people to treat it like a stroke and call for help; let us figure it out.”