by Stacy Quinn, Guest Blogger
Stroke. It wasn’t something I’d ever given much thought to as a young, healthy woman. In my mind, stroke was associated with old age and men. That was my first mistake.
My second mistake was ignoring stroke symptoms when I experienced them. And I brushed them off largely because of my first mistake: That stroke couldn’t happen to me.
Here’s how it started. One morning I woke up with the worst headache of my life, but I convinced myself I was just tired and stressed from a busy holiday season. Then when I slurred my speech twice in a meeting at work and my vision got blurry, I paused for a few minutes to consider what was going on. But after a brief pause, I charged ahead because I thought my symptoms were a side effect of my pounding headache.
These mistakes almost took my life. The headache, slurred speech and blurry vision were the result of a mini stroke—something that I waited far too long to seek medical help for. I didn’t know the facts, and that could have killed me. That’s why I want to share my experience with others. Knowing what stroke looks like could help save your life, the life of someone you care about or even a stranger. Here’s what you can learn from me.
Stroke strikes people of all ages
“You don’t look like someone who could have a stroke. I thought mostly older men had strokes.” That’s the first thing people say to me when I share my story. So I want people to think differently. Stroke affects everyone from babies and teens to young adults and women of all ages.
According to the American Stroke Association, 1 in 5 women will have a stroke in her lifetime. In fact, more women have strokes than men, and stroke kills more women than men. You might also not know that stroke is one of the top 10 causes of death in children.
Another important fact to be aware of is that stroke is on rise in young adults. Why? Some doctors and researchers attribute this to an upswing in common stroke risk factors like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, tobacco use and obesity. Avoiding regular checkups is another issue. Many young people are blowing off screening tests for things like cholesterol, blood pressure and blood sugar because they don’t think they need them until they are older.
Stroke symptoms are easy to remember – think FAST
Another thing I learned from my experience is that stroke is largely treatable. The faster people are treated, the more likely they are to recover. Nearly 2 million brain cells die every minute that a stroke is untreated.
The American Stroke Association says that 2 out of 3 times it’s a bystander who makes the decision to call 911 on behalf of someone suffering a stroke. So, how do you know if someone is having a stroke? I learned the FAST test to check for the common symptoms of a stroke. Check out this graphic… it’s easy to remember.
You should seek medical help immediately—even if you have only one of these symptoms. Additionally, if you ever have the “worst headache of your life,” like I did, get to the ER as fast as possible.
It can’t happen to me
Looking back, there were signs that something was wrong with my health in the days leading up to my mini-stroke. But I didn’t address the symptoms, both because I didn’t associate them with stroke and because I was busy and had a long to-do list I wanted to check off during the chaos of the holiday season.
After I slurred my speech in the meeting, I glanced at myself in the mirror and thought, “wow I look terrible.” I also noticed a new feature in my left eye that looked like a red lightning bolt. But again, I looked past what was right in front of me. I was tired. I was overworked. I was stressed. I also didn’t want to believe that something could be wrong with me. That is a scary thing to face.
As it turns out, I was a statistic you hear about and say, “Oh, that won’t happen to me.” I was in 1 in 100,000 people each year who have a carotid artery dissection. One of the main pathways that delivers blood from my heart to my brain developed a small tear in the innermost lining of the arterial wall. This caused a 90% blockage on my left side and mini-stroke. We don’t know why, it just happened. My body tried to tell me I needed help, but I waited until it was almost too late.
Learn from me. Always put your health first. You know your body better than anyone. So if something doesn’t feel right, don’t wait to get help. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about how lucky I am to be in this world.
Stacy Quinn is an Ambassador for Go Red For Women. You can follow her on Twitter @Healthy4Good.
Our mission is to be a relentless force for a world of longer, healthier lives. For nearly 100 years, we’ve been fighting heart disease and stroke, striving to save and improve lives. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer worldwide, and stroke ranks second globally. Even when those conditions don’t result in death, they cause disability and diminish quality of life. We want to see a world free of cardiovascular diseases and stroke.