Stroke — Signs, Symptoms and Risk Factors…

“I was anxious about producing my first performance for Overture to the Cultural Season, scheduled for Sept. 8, 2007 at the New Orleans Museum of Art” Sarah Abrusley, the 31 year-old nonsmoker vegetarian ballerina, recalled of the event that changed her life. “I awoke at 4:30 a.m. the day before with a piercing headache behind my right eye. As I rose from my bed with my husband Damien sleeping beside me, I realized that something was terribly wrong.
Just hours before the rehearsal, I was bringing to life images from Edgar Degas’ ballet-inspired works of art, balancing effortlessly on the tiny tip of a pointe shoe. Now, I couldn’t walk from my bed to the bathroom without holding onto every piece of furniture on my right side. As Damien saw me struggle to walk, I calmly told him ‘I just can’t get my equilibrium.’
I stumbled back to my bedroom to dress for the day, unaware that the left side of my body was already paralyzed. I didn’t realize that my arm hadn’t slipped through the left sleeve. When I told Damien that I was ready to leave for work, he looked shocked and scared. The next thing I knew, he swept me off my feet and carried me to the car.” At the hospital, a CT scan confirmed a hemorrhagic stroke.

What is a stroke?

A stroke occurs when there is a loss of blood flow to the brain. If blood flow is not restored, the lack of oxygen leads to cell death. The two main categories of stroke are ischemic and hemorrhagic. An acute ischemic event is often referred to as a “brain attack,” analogous to a heart attack. As with the heart, time equals tissue. The longer the brain is deprived of oxygen, the more brain cells die.

Are you at risk for a stroke?

The simple answer is yes. A stroke can occur at any age and is not gender or race specific. Unfortunately, according a recent survey conducted by the HealthyWomen (May 2010), many women may be underestimating their risk for a condition that is the third leading cause of death in women, (#1 heart disease, #2 cancer). Forty percent of the women surveyed said they were only somewhat or not at all concerned about experiencing a stroke in their lifetime, even though statistically women are more likely to have a stroke than men. Many women are also unaware that they are twice as likely to die from a stroke than from breast cancer. (2) General risk factors for a stroke include: age, family history, race, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, smoking, overweight, head and neck injuries, physical inactivity, and migraine headaches. Risk factors unique to women include taking birth control pills, pregnancy, childbirth and hormonal replacement therapy.

What are the symptoms of a stroke?

A stroke may present with sudden numbness, weakness, confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech, visual/hearing changes, difficulty walking, dizziness, and severe headache. Women may have unique symptoms including sudden facial/leg/arm pain, hiccups, chest pain/palpitations, tiredness, and nausea.

What should I do if I think I am having a stroke?

If you think that you or someone else is having a stroke, the most important thing you can do is to call 911 immediately. EMS teams are trained to stabilize patients and can better facilitate the delivery of stroke patents to the nearest appropriate hospital including recognized stroke centers, such as Forsyth Medical Center. Another important thing you can do is to record the time of symptom onset. Knowing this is key, as many of the options for stroke therapy are time dependent. If caught early enough, one might be able to prevent or dramatically reduce the severity of a stroke.


Stroke is a serious medical condition that affects a significant number of women each year.

It is important to be cognizant of your risk for a stroke because 80% of strokes are preventable. Early recognition of symptoms is essential to allow for the best outcome.

by Dr. William Patton, Neuro-Radiologist—Triad Radiology Associates