You know something’s not right.
Nearly 800,000 people in the United States have a stroke each year, according to the American Stroke Association. Often, feelings of dizziness or blurred vision are the first warning signs, as Dan Roberts found out.
SYMPTOMS START SMALL
During a weekly racquetball game, Dan jumped back and forth, swinging his racquet with intensity and strength. Then he paused for a moment when his left eye seemed cloudy.
“I couldn’t see clearly,” says Dan, “and dismissed it as sweat from my forehead.”
Not thinking twice about it, Dan packed up and went home. It wasn’t until later that night that the Casselberry contractor experienced something else peculiar. He sat up in bed and tried to stand.
“I fell to the floor,” recalls Dan. “I didn’t know what was happening. I lay there and couldn’t do anything.”
Dan’s wife, Jodi, says she heard a loud thump that sounded like dead weight falling. She rushed to her husband, and when she couldn’t get him to stir, she called 9-1-1.
FIRST TRIES AT TREATMENT
Dan was taken to an area hospital, where a computerized tomography (CT) scan showed his left carotid artery, a blood vessel supplying oxygenated blood to the front part of the brain, had a tear. As a result, a blood clot formed in the artery in Dan’s neck, and another formed in his brain, causing an ischemic stroke.
Ischemic strokes occur when a blood clot in an artery disrupts the flow of blood to your brain. Within minutes, it can kill or damage vital brain cells.
Dan was treated with tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), an intravenous injection administered to dissolve blood clots.
When the tPA didn’t work, Dan was transferred to one of the Florida Hospital facilities with a comprehensive stroke center.
Frank Hellinger, MD, Ph.D., an interventional neuroradiologist at Florida Hospital, treated Dan. He says that tears in arteries can occur for no apparent reason.
“Controlling your blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes, along with eating healthy and not smoking, helps prevent a stroke,” Dr. Hellinger explains.
STOPPING STROKE’S EFFECTS
Dr. Hellinger accessed and removed the clots in Dan’s body by going through a femoral artery in his leg. In addition to blurred vision, common symptoms include weakness or numbness on one side of your body and trouble talking or understanding people around you, says Dr. Hellinger.
It took three months of physical and speech therapy for Dan to regain his speech and most of the feeling on his right side. And in February 2013, a CT scan showed his carotid artery had fully healed.
“I felt pretty good after hearing the news,” Dan says. “I was happy knowing I could do whatever I wanted to again.”
WHEN IT’S NOT A STROKE
For some patients, feelings of dizziness and blurred vision indicate something other than a stroke: vertigo.
Often mistaken for lightheadedness or a fear of heights, vertigo is a distinct type of dizziness in which an individual feels as though he or she is spinning, falling or tumbling in space. It can also feel as if the surroundings are spinning. Additional symptoms are nausea, vomiting, and loss of hearing.
The condition may be caused by an infection or disturbance in the balance organs of the inner ear. Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo (BPPV) and Ménière’s disease are among the most common causes. BPPV occurs when small calcium particles gather in the inner ear canals, affecting signals your inner ear sends to the brain about balance. Ménière’s disease is a buildup of fluid that changes the pressure in the ear and causes episodes of vertigo.
There are multiple ways to test for vertigo and other types of dizziness, including a caloric test, which tracks your eyes as they stare at a moving object, and a posturography test, which examines your balance under various conditions.
Speak with your physician if you are experiencing the symptoms of vertigo.