by Dr. Allen Tyler
of Pottstown Memorial Medical Center

Dr. Allen Tyler.

A bad headache, difficulty focusing, confusion or fumbling to find words; it’s tempting to explain away troubling symptoms and chalk them up to fatigue, eye trouble, or one too many cups of coffee. These symptoms, however – particularly if they’re severe – may signal a stroke.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death, behind cancer and heart disease. A disease that limits the blood supply to the brain, stroke occurs when a blood vessel or artery is blocked by a blood clot or bursts. When that happens, the area of the brain supplied with oxygen and nutrients by the affected blood vessel is damaged, and the body part or function controlled by the damaged area doesn’t operate properly.

People who have a stroke are four times as likely to have another stroke during their lifetime, according to the National Stroke Association. Recurrent strokes carry an even higher risk of death and disability, because the brain was previously injured by the original stroke.

A stroke can change a person’s life forever. It can leave the victim with moderate to severe physical, mental or psychological disabilities. Depending on the area affected, a stroke victim may lose their memory, speech, balance, certain fine motor skills, control over certain muscles or movement of entire limbs – even paralysis of one side of the body. They may have difficulty reading, processing information or even eating.

About 87 percent of all strokes are ischemic strokes, where a blockage of a blood vessel that supplies blood to the brain occurs. The clot can form in the brain area, or in a blood vessel elsewhere in the body – the heart, chest area or neck – where it can break loose and travel to the brain.

The remaining 13 percent are called hemorrhagic strokes – strokes caused by a weakened blood vessel that breaks and bleeds into the surrounding brain tissue. A brain aneurysm refers to the bulging of the weakened blood vessel, which continues to weaken and, if not treated, breaks and bleeds into the brain.

If you suspect that someone is having a stroke, act quickly.

A stroke is an emergency. Mere seconds can make an enormous difference in the outcome for a stroke survivor. Call 9-1-1 and try to recall the time that symptoms first appeared. If a stroke victim receives immediate medical assistance, a clot-busting drug can be administered by medical personnel within three hours of first symptoms which may reduce the likelihood of long-term disability resulting from a stroke.

The quicker that medical care is received, the greater a stroke victim’s chances increase for both surviving a stroke and minimizing its effects.

Learn to recognize these stroke signs:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in part of one’s visual field
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

and be prepared – to save a friend or loved one’s life, or your own.

Not all of these warning signs may be present, and one or more may go away. Don’t ignore these signs or dismiss them, even if they do not persist. Call 9-1-1 or seek medical assistance immediately.

Editor’s Note: Dr. Allen Tyler is a member of the medical staff at Pottstown Memorial Medical Center, Department of Internal Medicine – Neurology. He is Board Certified in Neurology, Clinical Neurophysiology, and Epilepsy and serves adult patients and pediatrics (18 years and above). His practice is located at Pottstown Memorial Medical Center, Neurophysiology Department, Suite 100, Pottstown 19464. His information is not intended to replace a doctor’s advice, but to increase awareness and equip patients to benefit their health.