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Missing the symptoms

For years the medical community has been trying to increase public awareness of the symptoms of a stroke. The FAST program (Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech slurred, Time to call 911) is considered critical in getting a stroke victim medical treatment to minimize the effect of the damage to the brain caused by a stroke.

The problem is that these symptoms are characteristic of a stroke in the left side,  (also called the left hemisphere) of the brain. Strokes in the right side or hemisphere, and strokes in the brain stem usually have different symptoms. These means that some strokes may be missed by non-medical witnesses, delaying and/or preventing treatment.

This has also resulted in a common belief that left hemisphere strokes are more prevalent than right hemisphere strokes, which a study published in 2015, in the American Heart Association Journal uncovered evidence that this was not the case. This study reviewed reported strokes in patients, followed up with an MRI assessment of the location of the stroke.

The results of the study indicated that left hemisphere strokes were slightly more prevalent than right hemisphere strokes. It suggests that the difference might be attributed to the diagnosis of the stroke based on the noted symptoms, resulting in left hemisphere stroke patients being easier to identify, and right hemisphere stroke patients not being diagnosed.

Here are the possible physical symptoms of a right hemisphere stroke according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association:

  • Attention. He may not be able to focus on a task or what he sees or hears.
  • Perception. She may have left-side neglect. This means that she will not see objects or people on her left side. For example, she may have trouble reading words on the left side of a page. She may ignore food on the left side of her plate.
  • Reasoning and problem solving. He may not know that there is a problem, like running out of medicine. Or, he may not know how to solve the problem, like calling for a refill.
  • Memory. She may not remember information she learned before. She may have trouble learning new information.
  • Social communication. He may not be able to understand jokes or nonverbal cues. For example, he may not understand what someone means when they shrug their shoulders. He may say the wrong thing at the wrong time or interrupt others.
  • Organization. She may have trouble putting information together logically. This can cause problems when telling stories or giving directions. She may also have trouble planning. So, she might forget to respond to your calls or e-mails or lose information.
  • Insight. He may not recognize that he has any problems. Or, he may not realize that his problems cause trouble at home, school, or work.
  • Orientation. She may have problems knowing the date, time, or where she is. She may not remember information like her birthday, age, or family names.