Heed the warning of stroke-like symptoms and see your doctor ASAP

Torres del Paine jbm - 143In the year or two before my stroke, I was aggravated by mild but annoying memory and cognition problems: forgetting movies I’d just seen or books I’d recently read. Then there were the strange typos when I wrote at my computer.


‘Height’ was written as ‘right.’ ‘Core’ was written as ‘bore’—rhyming mistakes that didn’t come from a missed finger on the keyboard. I never make typos like that, I thought.

Excerpt from Scrambling Back:One Woman’s Quest to Return to te Wild After Stroke and Autoimmune Disease


This oddity—I didn’t think of it at a “symptom”—seemed too vague to take to a doctor. It was probably just menopause coming on, I decided. Besides, I was busy and otherwise felt fine. Later, after my stroke, my speech therapist explained that my “oddity” was indeed a neurological symptom that my brain might not be getting enough oxygen.

Unusual forgetfulness and the kind of rhyming mistakes I was making are “stroke-like” symptoms. They can—as in my case—be a sign of a stroke to come. They can also signal a brain that is beginning to develop memory and cognition problems that could lead to dementia, according to research published in the journal Neurology.

 The study found that people who had stroke symptoms were more likely to develop memory and thinking problems: Twice as likely among Caucasians and three likes as likely among African Americans.

“Our study highlights the importance of discussing stroke-like symptoms with your family doctor, even if they don’t last long. These symptoms can be a warning sign that a person is at increased risk of stroke or problems with thinking or memory,” said study author Dr. Brendan J. Kelley of the University of Cincinnati.

Find more information about the study here.

When I think back to those quirky symptoms I had in the year before my stroke, I realize:  If I’d reported these to my doctor—my gynecologist, the only doctor I had back then—if she had connected the dots … She might have ordered tests that would have pinpointed three alarming risks for stroke: migraines, a genetic risk for stroke called Factor V Leiden, and, most serious, an autoimmune clotting disorder that was turning my blood to sludge. Surely she would have ordered me to stop taking estrogen in the form of birth control pills. She might have prescribed an aspirin a day to reduce my stroke risk. My stroke might have been prevented.

If. If. If. That’s a place I don’t like to go.

But it’s not too late for you. Learn about stroke risks and how they might apply to you. And if you experience symptoms, even quirky ones, see your doctor ASAP.

Read more about the risk factors for stroke here.