Country music singer and activist Chely Wright shared a very personal and alarming health diagnosis on Facebook Friday and urged readers to “pay attention to your body.”
Wright’s post marked a year since she’d gone to the ER at Lenox Hill Hospital, in New York City. She'd had a migraine for three days, she wrote, which wasn't uncommon for her. Still, she wanted to get the headache “out of the way” before her shows that coming weekend.
The doctor who saw her observed some unusual symptoms concerning Wright’s migraine, carried out diagnostic tests, and told her she’d actually had a stroke.
“A stroke. I’d just turned 48,” she wrote. In hindsight, however, the “Single White Female” singer said she “sort of knew it.”
“What I’d been experiencing with that headache and leading up to that headache was different,” she continued. “I’d even said aloud to myself in the bathroom mirror, Did you have a stroke?”
Wright reassured her fans that she was okay, and explained that the reason she was sharing her experience was “so you might take a moment to refresh your understanding of stroke and the symptoms of stroke.”
So what is a stroke, exactly? It happens when there is a reduction in blood supply to the brain due to a blockage or bleeding in the brain. Recognizing the signs of a stroke early on is crucial, because quicker treatment can reduce the likelihood of serious complications and improve the odds of survival.
“Stroke symptoms generally come on suddenly, and time is of the essence,” South Florida cardiologist Adam Splaver, MD, tells Health. “The American Stroke Association has come up with a good acronym, FAST, which is a mnemonic for the typical symptoms of a stroke. ‘F’ stands for facial drooping; ‘A’ for arm or leg weakness; ‘S’ for speech problems; and ‘T’ for time to call 911. The last one is not a sign, but an important step to take.”
Wright doesn’t say if she had any of these common symptoms, but clearly certain clues suggested that her headache was no ordinary migraine. According to Dr. Splaver, other symptoms of stroke include visual deficits (such as trouble seeing with one or both eyes) and memory issues.
“A severe headache can be a sign of a particular type of stroke called a hemorrhagic stroke [also known as a brain aneurysm burst or a weakened blood vessel leak],” he says.
In Wright’s case, she was accustomed to migraines—which can have neurological symptoms that mimic a mini-stroke, also known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA). According to the American Stroke Association, a TIA doesn’t cause permanent damage, but it often serves as an important warning of a full-blown stroke ahead. In other words, seek medical attention.
“If you have a history of migraines, a TIA usually presents similarly,” explains Dr. Splaver. “If you have never had a migraine before and you develop symptoms such as FAST or have a severe headache, call 911 and rule out a stroke or mini-stroke. Don’t assume it’s just a migraine.”
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