Speculation about on-air stroke brings us to this lesson: Learn the signs

TV reporter Serene Branson’s garbled speech during a live Grammy broadcast Sunday went viral online, causing speculation among viewers -- and doctors -- about whether the seemingly-too-young-to-have-a-stroke journalist did in fact have a stroke.

Such wondering is hardly out of line. Medical experts appearing on TV news shows pointed to her slurred speech as evidence that she might indeed have suffered a mild brain attack. The CBS Los Angeles station for which Branson works, however, said that she now feels fine and has had a follow-up visit with her doctor for tests. It also has removed the video from its website.

Branson’s episode may remain a mystery for now, but it does highlight just how little most people know about the warning signs for stroke – or about stroke at all, for that matter. In short, a stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain becomes blocked or bursts, interfering with the organ’s vital oxygen supply. PubMed Health can tell you more but suffice to say there are two main types of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic.

The minor strokes are especially likely to be missed – or ignored. Sometimes called transient ischemic attacks, or TIAs, they are described by the American Heart Assn. as a “warning stroke” or “mini-stroke” that produces stroke-like symptoms but usually no lasting damage. But know this, it adds: “Recognizing and treating TIAs can reduce your risk of a major stroke.” And about 795,000 Americans each year suffer a stroke, the American Stroke Assn. says.


PubMed Health warns that the symptoms usually develop suddenly. Or they may occur off and on. They’re usually worst early on. Or they may gradually worsen. You see the gray area. So let’s move on to symptoms:

“A headache may occur, especially if the stroke is caused by bleeding in the brain. The headache:

-starts suddenly and may be severe
-occurs when lying flat; wakes you up from sleep-gets worse when you change positions or when you bend, strain or cough.

Other symptoms depend on the severity of the stroke and what part of the brain is affected. Symptoms may include:

-change in alertness (including sleepiness, unconsciousness and coma)
-changes in hearing; changes in taste; clumsiness
-confusion or loss of memory
-difficulty swallowing
-difficulty writing or reading
-dizziness or abnormal sensation of movement (vertigo)
-lack of control over the bladder or bowels
-loss of balance
-loss of coordination
-muscle weakness in the face, arm or leg (usually just on one side)
-numbness or tingling on one side of the body
-personality, mood or emotional changes
-problems with eyesight, including decreased vision, double vision, or total loss of vision
-sensation changes that affect touch and the ability to feel pain, pressure, different temperatures or other stimuli
-trouble speaking or understanding others who are speaking, trouble walking.”

Details on risks (high blood pressure is the main one, but medications, alcohol use and head injury can also play a role), tests and follow-up care ensue. Whatever happened to Branson, at least she saw a doctor afterward. Everyone who suffers a possible TIA would be wise to do the same.