Know the Warning Signs of a Stroke — and What a Stroke Does to Your Feet

What is a stroke?

Stroke is a disease that affects the arteries (blood vessels) leading to and within the brain. It is the fifth leading cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States. Strokes can affect people of all ages but more than a third of those hospitalized are under 65 years old.

A stroke occurs when either:

  • there is a blockage of an artery by a clot
  • the artery ruptures (bursts)

When this happens, the part of the brain being fed by the artery stops receiving blood that carries oxygen and nutrients, and the brain cells die. Time is of the essence to prevent permanent damage to brain tissue.

Warning Signs of Stroke

What are the different types of strokes?

There are two different types of strokes:

1. Ischemic stroke

An ischemic stroke is caused by a blood clot obstructing the flow of blood to the brain. It accounts for 87% of all strokes.

2. Hemorrhagic stroke

A hemorrhagic stroke is caused by the rupture of a weakened blood vessel preventing blood flow to the brain. The two types of weakened blood vessels that cause hemorrhagic stroke are:

  • Aneurysm — a ballooning and weakened area of a blood vessel.
  • Arteriovenous malformation (AVM) — an abnormal connection between arteries and veins, causing bleeding into the brain and spinal cord.

The most common cause of hemorrhagic stroke is uncontrolled high blood pressure.

Warning Signs of Stroke

What is a transient ischemic attack?

A TIA (transient ischemic attack), or “ministroke,” is caused by a temporary clot, which resolves in minutes or hours. A TIA may be a warning. About 1 in 3 people who have a TIA will eventually have another stroke, with about half occurring within a year of the TIA.

What are the warning signs of a stroke?

Because different parts of the brain control different parts of the body, symptoms of a stroke depend on the part of the brain affected. Symptoms are also contingent on the extent of the damage.

The warning signs of a stroke are:

  • Sudden numbness, weakness, or paralysis of the face (face drooping), arm, or leg. Strokes often affect one side of the body, so arm or leg weakness can be an important sign to watch for — especially on one side of the body.
  • Speech difficulty — sudden trouble speaking, slurred speech, or difficulty understanding another’s speech.
  • Sudden blindness or blurry vision, in one or both eyes.
  • Dizziness, loss of balance and coordination — trouble walking.
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.
  • Sudden confusion.
  • Sudden nausea and vomiting not caused by a virus or other illness.
  • Brief loss of consciousness including fainting or seizures.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), you don’t have to exhibit all the warning signs to be having a stroke.

Learning and remembering the warning signs of a stroke could mean the difference between a fast recovery or permanent damage and disability, another stroke, or even death. Knowing the warning signs can save a life.

What is the act F.A.S.T. test for recognizing a stroke?

A stroke is a medical emergency so every minute counts! Fast treatment can lessen the brain damage that a stroke can cause. By learning and sharing the act F.A.S.T. warning signs, you may save a loved one from a stroke.

The stroke treatments that work best are available only if the stroke is recognized and diagnosed within three hours of the first symptoms. Stroke patients may not be eligible for these treatments if they don’t arrive at the hospital in time.

If you think someone may be having a stroke, use the F.A.S.T. acronym and do the following test:

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?

Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is the speech slurred or strange?

Time: If you see any of these signs, call 9-1-1 right away. Don’t waste any time.

Make note of the time when stroke symptoms first appear; this information assists the stroke care team in determining the best treatment.

If you think you or someone else is having a stroke, don’t drive to the hospital or let someone else drive you. Call an ambulance so that medical personnel can begin life-saving treatment on the way to the emergency room.

More stroke and F.A.S.T. information are found on the webpage of the American Stroke Association.

What are stroke risk factors?

A stroke can occur at any age but the chance of having a stroke increases with certain risk factors. Some of these risk factors can be changed or managed, while others cannot.

Risk factors for stroke that can be changed, treated, or medically managed:

High blood pressure

A blood pressure reading of 140/90 or higher can damage the arteries (blood vessels) that supply blood to the brain.

Heart disease

Heart disease is the second most important risk factor for stroke and the major cause of death among survivors of stroke. Stroke and heart disease have many of the same risk factors.


Excess blood sugar from diabetes decreases the elasticity of the blood vessels, causing them to narrow and impede blood flow. This increases the risk of stroke in diabetics.


Smoking doubles the risk of an ischemic stroke.

High red blood cell count

A significant increase in the number of red blood cells thickens the blood and makes clots more likely. This increases the risk of stroke.

High blood cholesterol (hyperlipidemia)

High cholesterol levels can contribute to the buildup of plaque in the arteries (atherosclerosis). Plaque consists of deposits of fatty substances, cholesterol, and calcium. Plaque buildup in the artery walls can decrease blood flow to the brain causing a stroke.

Excessive alcohol use

More than two drinks per day can raise blood pressure and lead to stroke.

Drug use disorder

IV (intravenous) drug abuse carries a high risk of cerebral embolism (blood clots in the brain). Cocaine and other drugs have been closely linked to strokes, heart attacks, and other cardiovascular problems.

Abnormal heart rhythm

Atrial fibrillation (abnormal heartbeat) results in rapid contractions of the heart that are weaker than normal heart contractions. This results in slower blood flow in the heart chambers. Slower blood flow can result in the formation of clots in the arteries to the brain and within the brain.

Cardiac structural abnormalities

Damaged heart valves (valvular heart disease) can cause long-term (chronic) heart problems. Over time, this can increase the risk of stroke.

Warning Signs of Stroke

Lack of exercise

A study found that less time being sedentary and more time being physically active — even at light or moderate intensities — is associated with a reduced risk of stroke.

Risk factors for stroke that are out of your control:


For each decade of life after age 55, the chance of having a stroke more than doubles.


African Americans have a much higher risk of death and disability from a stroke than Caucasians. This is partly because the African American population has an increased incidence of high blood pressure.


A stroke occurs more often in men, but more women than men die from stroke. Women have a longer life expectancy, and therefore older age at the time of stroke. There is a higher incidence of stroke at an older age.

Men and women who have strokes have similar symptoms, but some signs in women are more subtle and can be missed or brushed off.

Women are often living alone and have less social support which contributes to being institutionalized at discharge from the hospital. Based on this observation, social factors play a role in increased death from stroke in women.

History of TIAs (transient ischemic attacks) or strokes

If you’ve had one or more TIAs, you are almost 10 times more likely to have a stroke than someone of the same age and sex who has not had a TIA. Once you’ve had a stroke, you are at higher risk of having a second one.

Heredity or genetics

The chance of stroke is greater in people with a family history of stroke.

What does podiatry have to do with a stroke?

By evaluating a patient’s medical history, we can begin to diagnose the cause of a stroke as well as stroke risk in those who haven’t had a stroke — yet. Peripheral artery disease (PAD) in the lower extremities increases your risk of ischemic stroke and mortality. At University Foot & Ankle Institute, we can perform vascular testing and treatment to determine and hopefully lower your stroke risk.

A stroke can also have negative effects on the lower extremities. These symptoms include:

  •  muscular atrophy (wasting)
  •  paralysis (loss of nerve control and sensation)
  •  paresthesia (alter sensations)

These symptoms can lead to secondary conditions that affect the feet, like foot drop.

Why choose University Foot and Ankle Institute for your foot and ankle care?

Whether you need to find the right footwear, treat an injury, or get advice on proper foot care, we’re here to help. Our podiatrists offer the most advanced podiatry care and the highest success rates in the nation. We are nationally recognized foot and ankle specialists and leaders in researching, diagnosing, and treating all foot and ankle conditions and common injuries.

For a consultation please call (877) 736-6001 or make an appointment online now.

Our podiatrists take patients’ safety seriously. Our podiatry facility’s Covid-19 patient safety procedures exceed all the CDC’s coronavirus pandemic recommendations. Masks are always required in our institutes.

University Foot and Ankle Institute is conveniently located throughout Southern California and the Los Angeles area. Our foot doctors are available at locations in or near Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, West Los Angeles, Manhattan Beach, Northridge, Downtown Los Angeles, Westlake Village, Granada Hills, and Valencia.

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