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Risks, Signs & Symptoms… What You Need to Know About Strokes

May 05, 2023

May is National Stroke Awareness Month. Knowing how to tell if you or someone else is having a stroke and how to respond saves lives! A stroke is a condition in which the brain can’t get blood flow and happens when one or more blood vessels leading to the brain are blocked or burst. Since 2018, a stroke is considered a neurological disease (prior it was classified by WHO as cardiovascular). The new classification acknowledges that neurologists treat stroke patients and that survivors live with life-changing neurological consequences. It is also making the burden of stroke clearer and is leading to improvements in stroke research funding and the provision of care for stroke patients.

What do you need to know? First, it’s important to understand that strokes can happen in young people and not just the elderly. It is also important to recognize all risks, signs, and symptoms. Providers such as primary care and specialty providers at William Newton Hospital can help you assess your risk and implement preventive care.

Risks that Increase Having a Stroke?

High blood pressure occurs when the pressure of the blood in your arteries and other blood vessels is too high. This is a leading cause of stroke. There are often no symptoms of high blood pressure. Having your blood pressure checked by your medical provider regularly is important.

Diabetes increases your stroke risk since its common for people with diabetes to have high blood pressure (the main cause of increased risk of stroke among diabetics). If you are an existing WNH patient - contact your provider via the WNH Patient Portal or if you are a new patient – find a provider with a WNH Provider website search.

High cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance made by the liver or found in certain foods. Taking in more cholesterol than the body can use means the extra cholesterol can build up in the arteries, including those of the brain. This leads to the narrowing of the arteries, stroke, and other problems.

Heart disease increases your stroke risk. Coronary artery disease causes plaque to build up in the arteries and block the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the brain. Heart valve defects, irregular heartbeat (including atrial fibrillation), and enlarged heart chambers can cause blood clots that may break loose and cause a stroke.

Tobacco use increases stroke risk.

  • Cigarette smoking can damage the heart and blood vessels.
  • Nicotine raises blood pressure.
  • Carbon monoxide from cigarette smoke reduces the amount of oxygen your blood can carry.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or difficulty understanding speech.
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance, or lack of coordination.
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

Think you or someone else is having a stroke?

Act F.A.S.T. - do the following test:

  • F—Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • A—Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • S—Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the speech slurred or strange?
  • T—Time: If you see any of these signs, call 9-1-1 right away.

Note the time when any symptoms first appear. This timeline information helps healthcare providers determine the best treatment for each specific patient.

Do NOT drive to the hospital. Do NOT have someone else drive you. Call 9-1-1 for an ambulance! Emergency medical providers begin life-saving treatment on the way to the emergency room.

FAQ’s About Strokes

1. Can you have a stroke in your sleep?

Yes. Adults sleeping less than 7 hours nightly are more likely to have problems raising stroke risk:

  • High blood pressure. During normal sleep, it goes down. With sleep problems, blood pressure stays higher for a longer period of time.

  • Type 2 diabetes. Causes sugar to build up in your blood, damaging vessels. Studies show getting enough sleep may help people improve blood sugar control.

  • Obesity. Lack of sleep can lead to weight gain. Especially for children and adolescents, who need more sleep. Not enough sleep may affect a part of the brain controlling hunger.

2. Is persistent vomiting after a stroke a medical emergency?

Yes, it is a medical emergency because if you lose nutrients and fluids consistently, health can quickly deteriorate. Self-treatment is dangerous since the wrong treatment can delay recovery and cause malnutrition. Your medical provider needs to handle diagnosis and manage care.

  • Potential causes: Cyclic vomiting syndrome, side effects from medication, onset of another stroke, damage to areas of the brain due to vertebrobasilar stroke, side effects of cerebellar stroke, and vestibular disorders.

3. What happens to your brain when you have a stroke?

The brain controls movements, stores memories, and is the source of thoughts, emotions, and language. It also controls functions like breathing and digestion. If something blocks blood flow, brain cells start to die within minutes, because they can’t get oxygen. This causes a stroke.

4. What to do if you're having a stroke alone?

Stroke survivors say they suddenly felt very sleepy, and some went to sleep a few hours before they came to the emergency room. If you are alone, fight the urge to sleep and immediately call 9-1-1. (Do NOT call your primary care provider first.)

5. How does stroke affect the nervous system?

A stroke can cause temporary or permanent disabilities, depending on how long the brain lacks blood flow and which part is affected. Complications: You may become paralyzed on one side of the body, or lose control of certain muscles, such as those on one side of the face or one arm.

6. What causes a stroke in young adults?

According to the American Heart Association, strokes have increased 40% among young U.S. adults over several decades. About 10-15% of strokes occur in adults aged 18-50. Typical risk factors: High blood pressure, blood clots, diabetes, lifestyle, pregnancy and genetics.

7. Are the risks different for men versus women?


  • WOMEN: Stroke is the 5th leading cause of death in women. In the U.S., 1 in 5 between age 55 and 75 will have one. Risk increases with age and women generally live longer. High blood pressure during pregnancy, certain types of birth control medicines (especially if they also smoke) and having higher rates of depression are risks unique to women.

  • MEN: Half of men (50.4%) have high blood pressure >/= to 130/80 mm Hg or are taking medicine for it. 4 out of 5 do not have it controlled. About 1 in 7 smoke and about 3 in 4 in the U.S. are overweight or obese. About 1 in 7 have diabetes. Men are more likely to drink too much alcohol raising blood pressure levels and increasing triglycerides (fat in blood that hardens arteries). Not enough physical activity is also common for men.

REMEMBER: If any stroke symptoms are present - Dial 9-1-1 immediately! To learn more about “What You Need to Know About Strokes” and assess your personal risks, speak with your care team at William Newton Hospital, serving Winfield, Wichita, and surrounding areas. Staying healthy means being proactive about issues you’re having and getting help for a healthy future. May (National Stroke Awareness Month) is a good time to get your free copy of the CDC’s Know the Facts About Stroke.

Posted in Education , Emergency Care , Head-to-Toe Health , Primary Care , Weekend Check-Up Column on May 05, 2023