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When to Head to a Hospital with a Headache

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As I’ve mentioned time and again, headaches are not normal. Whether it is a sinus headache, a headache because your spine is out of alignment, a migraine or a tension headache, there is always a root cause that needs to be addressed.

A headache can also be the sign of a stroke. Stroke is a disease that affects the arteries leading to and within the brain. It is the No. 5 cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States, according to the American Stroke Association. Nearly 800,000 people in the United States have a stroke every year, with about three in four being first-time strokes. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or ruptures. When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood (and oxygen) it needs, so it and brain cells die.

So, how do you know when that headache could be the sign of a stroke? Look for these symptoms in yourself or others:

• Trouble with speaking and understanding. You may experience confusion. You may slur your words or have difficulty understanding speech.
• Paralysis or numbness of the face, arm or leg. You may develop sudden numbness, weakness or paralysis in your face, arm or leg, especially on one side of your body. Try to raise both your arms over your head at the same time. If one arm begins to fall, you may be having a stroke. Similarly, one side of your mouth may droop when you try to smile.
• Trouble with seeing in one or both eyes. You may suddenly have blurred or blackened vision in one or both eyes, or you may see double.
• Trouble with walking. You may stumble or experience sudden dizziness, loss of balance or loss of coordination.

If you are with someone who is experiencing these symptoms, think FAST literally!

Face. Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
Arms. Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward? Or is one arm unable to raise up?
Speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is his or her speech slurred or strange?
Time. If you observe any of these signs, call 911 immediately.

Call 911 or your local emergency number right away. Don’t wait to see if symptoms go away. Every minute counts. The longer a stroke goes untreated, the greater the potential for brain damage and disability.

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