Knowing what’s happening in your head could save your life
About 50 million people in the United States suffer from a neurological condition*, meaning one that affects the brain as well as the nerves found throughout the human body and the spinal cord. Types of neurological conditions vary greatly and are often severe, but do not have to be debilitating.
Although neurological conditions can be scary, there are preventative steps you can take to minimize risk for and damage from them. Awareness of warning signs is key. Common types of neurological conditions you should know about include Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and stroke.
Signs of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s is a neurological disease characterized by a deterioration of brain function, including memory. Although Alzheimer's does not currently have a cure, early detection can help and neurology physicians come up with a medication and management plan. With Alzheimer’s, warning signs occur over time and vary from person to person. Early signs to look for include:
- Memory loss
- Increased anxiety or aggression
- Repeating questions
- Taking longer than usual to complete daily tasks
- Mood and personality changes
- Decreased judgment and decision-making skills
- Shortened attention span
Signs of Epilepsy
Epilepsy is a condition in which cell activity in the brain is disrupted, causing seizures. Epilepsy can be the result of a stroke or another neurological issue, though about half of all cases have no obvious cause. However, epilepsy does not have to be debilitating. Doctors can help to manage epilepsy symptoms with medications, diets, devices and surgical options.
If you have epilepsy, you may be able to recognize the onset of a seizure before it begins. Warning signs include:
- Visual loss or blurring
- Numbness or tingling
- Sensory changes in smell, taste or scent
Seizures do not all look the same. Here are some signs to look out for if you think someone near you may be having a seizure:
- Sudden garbled speech
- Spasmic movements of the face, body or limbs
- Pupil dilation or enlargement
- Tremors in the face, body or limbs
- Sudden and intense staring or gaze
Giving seizure first aid is relatively simple. Seizures do not always require emergency attention. If you are around someone having a seizure, do not try to stop it. Stay with the person until the seizure ends and help them get to a safe place to rest.
It is also important to know when to call 911 for emergency help. Call 911 if:
- It is the person’s first time having a seizure
- The seizure lasts longer than 5 minutes
- The person was injured during the seizure
- The person experiences difficulty walking or breathing after the seizure
- They have another seizure soon after the first
- The seizure occurs in water
- The person has an underlying health condition like diabetes or heart disease, or is pregnant
Signs of Stroke
Strokes are a serious neurological condition that occurs when a clot blocks blood flow to the brain. Strokes can cause long-term brain damage and disability or result in death. Understanding the signs and symptoms of stroke can help you or your loved ones receive urgent medical attention as quickly as possible.
Symptoms of stroke usually come on very suddenly. Common signs of possible stroke include:
- Numbness or weakness in the face or limbs, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion and difficulty with speech (understanding and speaking)
- Sudden loss of vision or blurriness in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble with walking, dizziness or balance
- Sudden severe headache
If you suspect you or your loved one is having a stroke, remember the acronym BE FAST:
- Balance is affected. A person may fall or feel unsteady.
- Eyes are blurry or have difficulty seeing when you ask a person about their vision.
- Face droops when you ask a person to smile.
- Arm weakness when you ask a person to raise their arms above their head.
- Speech is slurred when you ask a person to repeat a sentence.
- Time is important. If you notice symptoms of a possible stroke, call 911.
* National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke