SAN ANTONIO – Strokes are the fifth-leading cause of death in the United States, and symptoms might not always be obvious.
"I had a real bad headache,” Clemente Alvarez said.
For Alvarez, it was the only symptom. It persisted, so we went to a doctor.
"I was walking to my doctor’s office, and something just came over me and I felt like I was going to faint,” Alvarez said.
Two security guards standing outside caught Alvarez and rushed him inside. Doctors told him that he had suffered a stroke.
May is American Stroke Month, a campaign started by the American Stroke Association. Strokes take more than 800,000 lives each year.
In Alvarez’s case, he was able to get to a doctor in time.
"We're talking hours,” said vascular neurologist Dr. Christopher Topel, who treated Alvarez at University Hospital. “The time windows for therapies have to be done very quickly."
According to Topel, some victims will not realize they are experiencing stroke symptoms.
"If you're having weakness or loss of sensation, people will pass it off. Maybe it’s a pinched nerve and they wait,” Topel said.
What are common symptoms?
"A lot of times people will report problems speaking. Either they'll have trouble getting words out or they’ll have trouble coordinating their tongue or their speech will be slurred,” Topel said.
Weakness of the face, arm or leg is also a telltale sign, while other times, like in Alvarez’s situation, it can be less obvious.
"Like headache, dizziness, nausea and loss of balance,” Topel said.
Risk factors for strokes include age and tobacco use. High blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart trouble also can put you at risk.
Meanwhile, Alvarez is steadily improving, to which he credited his faith and Topel. He hopes to warn others that strokes can happen to anyone.
"I thought I was a healthy guy, and I had a stroke,” Alvarez said.