A cerebrovascular accident (CVA), better known as a stroke, is caused by a sudden interruption to the blood supply into the brain. Small strokes can sometimes occur without causing any outward symptoms, but a major stroke is a serious medical emergency and should be treated immediately in order to minimise damage to the brain, so what are the signs and symptoms of CVA?
It is very important to be aware of the classic symptoms of a stroke so that you can seek medical help in the first instance. The signs of a stroke are not always obvious, but there are five classic symptoms to look out for, and these can be remembered using the acronym FAST: face, arm, speech, and time (time refers to the importance of seeking treatment sooner rather than later).
What are the signs and symptoms of CVA?
- Numbness or loss of feeling down one side of the body—you may notice a sudden collapse of one side of the face, the eye may begin to droop, and the patient might start drooling involuntarily on the affected side. The patient might also experience a tingling sensation down the affected side of the body.
- Paralysis down one side of the body is a classic symptom of a CVA and should always be taken very seriously. If in doubt about whether the patient is suffering from a stroke, ask them to raise both arms above their head—a stroke will cause the arm on the affected side to slowly drift back down.
- Confusion and trouble speaking—a stroke can affect cognitive ability and the patient may begin to slur their words and find it difficult to talk or form a coherent sentence. This will make it impossible for them to describe their symptoms, so be extra vigilant for other classic signs of a stroke.
- A sudden and very severe headache can be a sign of a major CVA and any severe headache that comes from nowhere should always be a cause for concern, particularly if the headache is accompanied by dizziness, vomiting, and any other symptoms of a stroke.
- Loss of coordination and balance can be a sign of a stroke, particularly if this occurs in conjunction with other classic stroke symptoms. The patient might fall over or feel very dizzy as they lose a sense of feeling down one side of their body.
- A stroke can sometimes affect vision and a stroke patient might experience blurred vision in one eye, or both. Other problems with sight include seeing double or everything turning black.
What are the signs and symptoms of CVA when the brain stem is affected?
A stroke can also occur in the brain stem, which can give rise to other symptoms as well as those normally seen in a stroke.
Symptoms of a brain stem CVA include changes in taste, hearing, smell as well as vision, decreased reflexes (swallowing, gag, and reaction to light), alterations in breathing pattern and heart rate, and weakness in the tongue.
If you suspect a loved one is having a stroke, seek medical assistance immediately. The sooner treatment is started, the better the prognosis.