If you’ve had a stroke, you are at higher risk of having a second stroke, especially if you are male. Within five years of a stroke, 42% of males and 24% of females experience another one. If you’ve had a stroke, it’s vital to watch for second stroke warning signs, as well as symptoms of other serious post-stroke complications.
Learn what stroke symptoms or warning signs to look for and when to call your doctor or 911.
You suddenly feel a severe, horrible headache—possibly the worst headache in your life, as if you’ve been hit with a sledgehammer. This could be a sign of a ruptured brain aneurysm and mean you are on the verge of a stroke. If you are with other people, tell someone immediately and ask them to call 911. Or if you are alone, call 911 yourself. A stroke symptom like this is a medical emergency and requires immediate medical help.
Your stroke may have left you with slurred speech, making it difficult to pronounce words. But, a change in your current ability to speak may be a warning sign of stroke. Perhaps words you knew simply won’t come to you, as if everything is on the tip of your tongue but the actual words won’t form. Or, the words don’t make sense: They are jumbled and out of order, or are the wrong word for what you are trying to say (calling your phone a fork, for example). Having difficulty speaking is aphasia, a common stroke symptom. If you develop sudden speech problems, call 911.
If your stroke left you weak or paralyzed on your left side and now you feel weak on your right side, you could be having a second stroke, especially if this weakness comes on abruptly, with no warning. Or, if your weak left side suddenly feels weaker than usual, this is another danger sign. Your face also may suddenly droop when you try to smile or you may have difficulty holding your arm up. Call 911 if you have any sudden weakness or numbness in your face, arms or legs.
Eye symptoms can be early warning signs of strokes or of mini-strokes (transient ischemic attacks, or TIAs). These symptoms can include sudden blurry vision, seeing double, trouble focusing, or having part of your visual field blocked off (as if a shade or wall had dropped over part of your vision). These symptoms can occur in one or both eyes. Sometimes visual symptoms go away, so you may think they are nothing to worry about. But you should call 911, as they can be important warning signs of a pending stroke.
If your previous stroke didn’t affect your ability to walk, but now you can’t seem to stay upright, get medical help straightaway. Abrupt difficulty with coordination and balance, new feelings of dizziness, and unexpected, sudden stumbling or falling can all be stroke warning signs. Seek immediate medical help, such as by calling 911. To be effective, some stroke treatments (such as clot-busting drugs) must be administered within three hours of symptoms, so don’t delay.
Arm or leg swelling
A dangerous complication that can occur during stroke recovery is deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot that can be caused by immobility (such as being in a hospital bed or sitting in a wheelchair for long periods of time). Oftentimes, these occur in arms or legs. DVT signs and symptoms might include swelling, pain, warmth or discoloration of your arm or leg, as well as fever.
Left untreated, blood clots like this could break off and travel to your lung or elsewhere and be fatal. Seek immediate medical help if you suspect DVT.
Heart attacks or other heart problems are one of the most common post-stroke complications, especially in the first 30 days after a stroke but continuing for at least the first year. Signs include chest pain or discomfort (such as a feeling of pressure or heaviness) and palpitations (feeling fluttering, thumping or racing heartbeats). You also may be short of breath, nauseous, sweaty, or fatigued. Heart attack is a medical emergency, so call 911 and alert others around you.
Shortness of breath
Pneumonia is another common and serious complication during stroke recovery, affecting as many as one-third of stroke survivors. Usually, the cause is aspiration—accidentally inhaling food or liquids. Signs include shortness of breath, chest pain, or feelings of heartburn, fever, bluish or pale skin, coughing up blood or green sputum, bad breath, and excess sweating. You may not have all these symptoms, but any one of them should prompt a call to your doctor.