What is your stroke IQ?

LOS ANGELES More than 750,000 strokes happen every year, mostly to people who have never had one before. Doctors say understanding what your body's telling you could save your life.

Some stroke survivors are young, healthy and have no idea they are experiencing a stroke.

"I thought I could possibly be getting a cold. I just remember wanting to go back to bed," said Jennifer Shepard.

Jennifer's friends finally called for help when they saw her face drooping more than two hours after the symptoms started.

"I wasn't at risk. I didn't have any of the red flags," said Jennifer.

In a recent study of more than 15,000 people, only 23 percent arrived at the hospital within two hours of stroke symptoms.

Mayo Clinic neurologist Kevin Barrett says driving yourself to the ER is not the fastest option.

"If you're taken by an ambulance, you'll be seen by a doctor faster, and that's the key," said Dr. Barrett, vascular neurologist, The Mayo Clinic.

In another survey, fewer than two in five people knew the warning signs, which include:

  • Vision loss
  • Severe headache
  • Balance problems
  • Loss of feeling on one side of the body
  • Trouble speaking

Doctors say these warning signs can be subtle.

"There was no slurred speech, no other signs other than I couldn't see very well," said Mia Burkhard, a stroke survivor.

Mia is a radiology technician who works with stroke patients. Even she didn't pick up on her own symptoms until hours after she drove herself to work.

"It can happen to anybody," said Mia.

Mia and Jennifer both missed the standard three-hour window for treatment, but they're recovering after months of therapy.

Web extra information:

According to the American Heart Association, 700,000 people suffer a stroke each year. About 500,000 of these strokes are first occurrences, while the rest are repeat strokes.

Every 45 seconds, someone has a stroke in the U.S. It is the third leading cause of death in the country, and almost 150,000 people die each year from stroke. It's also the leading cause of serious, long-term disability.

Nearly three-quarters of all strokes occur in people over the age of 65. The risk of having a stroke more than doubles each decade after the age of 55; however, strokes can and do happen at any age. Nearly one quarter of strokes occur in people under the age of 65. Stroke death rates are higher for African Americans than for whites, even at younger ages.

Types of stroke
There are four major types of strokes: two are caused by clots and two by hemorrhage.

Cerebral thrombosis: the most common kind of stroke, occurs when a blood clot forms in an artery, blocking the flow of blood to the brain.

Cerebral embolism: occurs when a blood clot forms in a distant body part, often the heart, and is carried to one of the major arteries in the brain, where it blocks blood flow. A heart disorder called atrial fibrillation is a risk factor for this kind of stroke.

Subarachnoid hemorrhage: caused when a blood vessel on the surface of the brain ruptures, bleeding into the space between the brain and the skull.

Cerebral hemorrhage: accounts for about 10 percent of strokes. It happens when an artery in the brain bursts because of a head injury or aneurysm.

Treatment usually begins in the emergency room, so doctors can diagnose the type of stroke you are having. You may be given drugs to dissolve a possible clot or reduce the swelling in the brain. For ischemic stroke, the drug tissue plasminogen activator, or tPA, has been proven by several large clinical trials to help patients recover. However, those trials show that if given later than three hours after a person first realizes he is having stroke symptoms, tPA can cause dangerous bleeding in the brain. Doctors say it is only safe to give tPA within three hours of the beginning of stroke symptoms, which is why physicians think recognizing stroke symptoms and getting to the hospital immediately is so important.

Stroke IQ
A National Stroke Association study shows most Americans do not treat stroke as an emergency. A survey reports one in three Americans cannot name a single symptom a person might experience while having a stroke. Women may report unique stroke symptoms such as sudden face and limb pain, hiccups, nausea, general weakness, chest pain, shortness of breath and palpitations.

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