From a presentation by Christopher Cunningham, MD McLeod Vascular Associates
Don’t ignore temporary blindness, paralysis or trouble understanding or speaking to people. These could be signs of a stroke. Spotting and treating strokes quickly is important to saving a life.
McLeod Vascular Surgeon Christopher Cunningham, MD, describes what to watch for:
Here are the major points Dr. Cunningham touched on:
The two carotid arteries to your brain go to the respective sides of your brain. The sides of the brain control the opposite sides of the body. S0, my left carotid artery controls the right side of my body. The other is the opposite.
The symptoms that are classic symptoms for a stroke from the carotid artery are very specific.
One is temporary monocular blindness. It’s like a curtain comes down over your eye. You can see perfectly with one eye – but can’t see at all out of the other eye. You’d think that would be an emergency for most people. It occurs because a little piece of plaque breaks off in the carotid bulb, and it goes to the brain. The eyeball and the retina is really part of the brain.
If it’s not functioning but there’s no pain associated with it, the normal human reaction is to apply the ”universal cure” – give it a rub. So you rub the eye and it seems to be getting better.
I cannot tell you the number of people who are presented to me with a major stroke, who had this warning symptom 2 or 3 times before. Didn’t know it was a warning symptom – and ignored it. We want people to be able to recognize these signs and get help.
Next is weakness or paralysis on the side of your body. If you sleep funny on the couch and, when you wake up, your arm is numb and weird, that’s not a reason to call for help. However, if you are making the morning coffee and suddenly your left hand quits and drops to your side, that’s different. But most people start by applying the “universal cure.” They think, “It’s not working. Better give it a rub. Well, after a few minutes it seems to be getting better. It’s probably just my circulation.”
Yes, it is your circulation. But not to your hand. It’s the circulation to your brain. And it is a warning symptom of an impending stroke.
Finally, you can experience disturbances in language. Language is an amazing gift we have. We can speak in full sentences, short phrases, and accents – talking a mile a minute – and most people can “decode” it quickly and easily. That fact that you can understand grammatically incorrect speech and respond without thinking or diagramming a sentence is the amazing fact of language.
Language function for a 100% of right-handed people is in the brain’s left hemisphere. (If you’re left handed only “sometimes” is it in the opposite hemisphere.)
So, some people having a stroke will experience one of two kinds of problems with language: expressive aphasia or receptive aphasia.
Expressive Aphasia. I know everything that’s going on. I understand everything that I see, everything that I read. But I can’t communicate. It can come out in grunts and groans. I can’t get a real word out.
You might say, “If I had that, I would simply take a piece of paper and write my message. What’s the problem with that?” The problem is this: it’s not that the speaker (mouth) doesn’t work. It’s not that the hand trying to write doesn’t work. It’s that the brain interrupts the message between language and getting it out. It’s like being trapped in a box, unable to communicate in solitary confinement.
The flip side of the coin is Receptive Aphasia. Everyone in the room is talking, but suddenly it sounds like they’re talking some language you can’t understand. And because I don’t understand what I hear, when I try to respond spontaneously, it comes out something like, “Blueberry, fire truck, Christmas.”
Strokes that steal language are the cruelest diagnosis I’ve ever taken care of.
We all know we’re going to get older. We all know that we won’t always be strong. We all know that — at some point – we’re going to die. But to be separated form the rest of humanity, people uncomfortable being around you, because you can’t communicate has got to be the worst thing.
Unfortunately, that’s what happens all the time. That’s what I take care of and try to prevent.
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