Q: If you have only one symptom of a stroke, or only mild symptoms, how do you know it’s a stroke and not something else? Will symptoms eventually appear that make it clear you've had a stroke? What other conditions cause stroke-like symptoms?
Answer from Ted Lowenkopf, M.D., medical director of Providence Stroke Center:
You can't always know, quickly and with certainty, that you've experienced a stroke. The sudden onset of stroke symptoms usually makes it very clear that a stroke has occurred. But other medical conditions can cause similar symptoms. And in some cases, it can be difficult even for health providers to determine whether the symptoms are the result of a stroke or a different problem.
A CT scan at the emergency department generally clears up this confusion. An MRI is even more sensitive for detecting recent brain injury from stroke.
But the important point is this: If you ever find yourself wondering if you, a loved one, a co-worker or perhaps a stranger has experienced a stroke, do not wait until symptoms become "clear." This is not a time for delay or for puzzling through possible causes on your own. Immediately call 911, no matter what the hour. This holds true whether you notice only a single symptom or a few mild symptoms.
Time is of the essence with stroke. The more minutes that pass, the more likely the chance of permanent brain injury and disability. Rapid medical treatment can help preserve brain function and prevent disability.
Symptoms of stroke
If you notice even one of these symptoms, it could indicate a stroke:
However, other health conditions can cause similar symptoms:
Think of stroke as a “brain attack”
Seeking immediate medical care for a suspected stroke is just as important as seeking immediate medical care for a suspected heart attack. Think of stroke as a brain attack.
It can be difficult and scary to feel that you must make a judgment call about going to the emergency room, so we in the stroke field uniformly prefer that you err on the side of caution: We want you to call 9-1-1.
If it is a stroke, there are several advantages to quick action:
If it is not a stroke, seeking immediate care will still benefit you, allowing you to find out what is causing your symptoms so that doctors can guide you to appropriate care.
Want more information?
See www.providenceFAST.org for tips to help prevent and recognize stroke.
Two very fine sources of additional information are the American Stroke Association and the National Stroke Association.
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