You’re Having a Stroke: Could You Identify the Symptoms?

You’re Having a Stroke: Could You Identify the Symptoms?

Kara Swisher is a business technology journalist and contributor to The New York Times. In a recent article, she describes her own symptoms that led to her rush to the ER with a stroke. What saved her life? It well may have been a long-distance consult with her doctor brother who recognized the symptoms. His words: “You’re Having a Stroke” could have saved her life. Could you identify the symptoms?

“Get to a hospital now. You’re having a stroke”

Swisher had flown to Hong Kong to run a conference. She was 49, healthy and didn’t have any of the conditions normally associated with a stroke—no high blood pressure, neither a smoker nor overweight. She had begun to feel odd symptoms, but associated them with the normal migraines with which she struggled. She felt a slight tingle on the side of her mouth and hand, and her words came out garbled. Odd, but certainly not alarming.

When she tried to eat a strawberry, it slowly dropped from the side of her mouth onto her shirt. As she’d been doing for years, she texted her symptoms to her brother, Jeff, a doctor. By the time she’d showered, dressed and headed to the restaurant for breakfast, her symptoms were largely gone, and she moved on to her day. By the time Jeff called to tell her she was having a stroke, she laughed it off.

But he was insistent. In an increasingly urgent tone he insisted that she drop everything and go to the hospital immediately. Getting the blood flowing back to the part of the brain that is affected is critical. So Swisher took a car to the Hong Kong ER.

A screen clearly showed a stroke

The stroke showed up on a screen: Evidence of a transient ischemic attack, a mini-stroke, was clearly visible. There was a small hole in her heart through which the clot traveled, plus Swisher had a type of blood that is more prone to clotting. Combined with not hydrating or walking around enough on the long flight to Hong Kong, it created what the doctor called a hole in one. He immediately started the treatment of anticoagulant drugs and medication. The doctor, who told her that had she not moved faster it would have been much worse.

Swisher was lucky to have had a brother who saved her life—or at least the quality of her life.


Strokes in younger people are very rare

  • About seven in one million Americans under age 50 die annually from strokes caused by a blocked blood vessel, and nine per million die from a brain hemorrhage, the two main types of strokes.
  • Arterial dissection. The lining of an artery tears and separates from the vessel wall. A blood clot forms at the site of the tear and travels to the brain, eventually blocking the flow of blood to brain tissue.

Knowing the symptoms can help prevent serious damage

Unlike Kara Swisher, not all of us have a doctor brother who can provide virtual medical advice. Nerve cellsin the brain tissue communicate with other cells to control body functions, including memory, speech and movement.When you have a stroke, your brain isn’t getting the blood it needs, so your memory, speech and movement are affected. You need treatment as soon as possible to lower your chances of brain damage, disability or even death.

Recognize stroke symptoms

If you feel the kinds of symptoms that Kara Swisher did—numbness and tingling—be aware that you could be experiencing the initial symptoms of a stroke. This easy test will help determine if you need to immediately get to the emergency room.

  • Face: Smile and see if one side of the face droops.
  • Raise both arms. Does one arm drop down?
  • Speech: Say a short phrase and check for slurred or strange speech.
  • Time: If the answer to any of these is yes, call 911 right away and write down the time when symptoms started.

How to lower the risk of stroke? Adopt healthy habits

  • Lower blood pressure and cholesterol.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Lose weight.
  • Exercise more.
  • If you drink, do it in moderation.
  • Treat atrial fibrillation.
  • Treat diabetes.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Have regular medical checkups.

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