The TV host's slurred speech and eye changes during the American Idol finale alarmed fans, but his rep has clarified that Seacrest did not suffer this health emergency.

By Claire Gillespie
May 19, 2020
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Some fans watching the American Idol finale on Sunday night were distracted by host Ryan Seacrest, who appeared to slur his speech. His right eye also seemed to be enlarged. Many people took to Twitter to express concern that Seacrest had suffered from a stroke. However, his rep assured CNN that was not the case. 

"Ryan did not have any kind of stroke last night," the rep said in an email statement. "Like many people right now, Ryan is adjusting to the new normal and finding work-home balance, with the added stress of having to put on live shows from home."

By the end of the show, when Just Sam was announced as the winner, Seacrest seemed to be back to his normal self. But he didn’t appear on Monday’s live broadcast of Live with Kelly and Ryan. His rep told CNN that he was “in need of rest” and "took a well-deserved day off.” 

It's good news that Seacrest's symptoms were not related to a stroke, which is a serious health emergency often characterized by similar speech and facial changes.

“A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is suddenly interrupted, causing a part of the body to stop working,” Cen Zhang, MD, vascular neurologist at NYU Langone Health, tells Health. “When parts of the brain do not receive blood flow, these areas cannot function properly and thus cannot send out signals to the rest of the body. Initially, the brain can compensate, but if the flow remains blocked, those tissues in the brain die.”

It’s not surprising that many people were concerned about Seacrest. Language or speech difficulty is one of the main symptoms of a stroke, Ian Katznelson, MD, a neurologist at Northwestern Medicine Lake Forest Hospital in Chicago, Illinois, tells Health. Other symptoms include loss of symmetry of the face on one side or the other, loss of function of limbs on one side of the body or another, and loss of sensation. “The symptoms depend on the part of the brain involved,” explains Dr. Katznelson. 

Swelling around one eye—as Seacrest seemed to experience—is not typically a symptom of stroke, says Dr. Zhang. However, double vision, blurry vision, or loss of vision are possible eye-related signs. 

Whatever stroke symptoms a person experiences, the key is that they come on abruptly. This means you don’t get much warning at all—if any. Dr. Zhang says this sudden onset of symptoms is the most important factor distinguishing stroke from other conditions, and it means taking quick action is crucial. 

Dr. Zhang recommends remembering the acronym “BE FAST,” where B stands for sudden balance problems and includes dizziness, veering, and difficulty walking; E stands for Eyes and includes double vision, blurry vision, and the loss of vision; F stands for Facial weakness; A stands for Arm weakness or numbness; S stands for Speech changes including slurred speech, difficulty producing words, or confusion; and T stands for Time, which means notifying 911 right away if you notice any of these symptoms in yourself or another person.

“A stroke can be life-threatening, but it can also be reversible using emergency therapies, if the person is evaluated quickly,” says Dr. Zhang. These therapies include a clot-buster medication, called alteplase, and a procedure to retrieve the clot from the brain. Both of these are time-sensitive treatments and may not be options if there is a delay in seeking medical help. 

The most common causes of a stroke include blockages of the arteries by atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries); blockages of the arteries by clots that formed in other body regions, commonly the heart or carotid arteries; or bleeding triggered by very high blood pressure. While not all strokes can be prevented, Dr. Katznelson recommends lifestyle measures to maintain good cardiovascular health and lower the risk of a stroke, such as following a heart-healthy diet (i.e. eating plenty of nutrient-rich fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean poultry and fish, while avoiding saturated fats, trans fats, and excess sodium and sugar).   

To reduce your risk of a stroke, the American Stroke Association also recommends quitting smoking, being physically active for at least 150 minutes per week, maintaining a healthy weight, and controlling your blood sugar if you have type 1 or type 2 diabetes. 

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