Stroke Signs & Symptoms

Why is recognizing stroke signs important?

When it comes to stroke, “time lost is brain lost.” The longer you wait to get medical treatment, the more brain damage will occur, and the lower your chances of surviving and making a full recovery will be. Stroke can be treated, but only if you get help quickly.

The rule to remember is that stroke needs to be treated within 3 hours of when the symptoms first started to occur. The most effective therapy for blocked-vessel (ischemic) stroke (the most common kind of stroke) is clot-busting drugs (tPA) that break up the blockage and allow blood and oxygen to get back to the affected part of your brain. However, these drugs must be given within 3 hours of the start of a stroke to work, and you’ll need to have tests done at the hospital first. Treatment is even more effective if given within 1 hour the sooner you are treated, the better.

What are the common symptoms of stroke?

Not everyone gets all of the following warning signs of stroke, and sometimes these signs can go away and return. If you have any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately.

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

Do women experience different stroke symptoms?

A study of 1124 stroke survivors found that some people have nontraditional stroke symptoms. These symptoms can appear in anyone having a stroke, but they are especially common in women. The nontraditional signs associated with stroke include:

  • Sudden face and arm or leg pain
  • Sudden hiccups
  • Sudden nausea (feeling sick to your stomach)
  • Sudden tiredness
  • Sudden chest pain
  • Sudden shortness of breath (feeling like you can’t get enough air)
  • Sudden pounding or racing heartbeat

How do I recognize a stroke in someone else?

If you are with someone who is having a stroke, they may just appear dazed and confused. The National Stroke Association coined the FAST mnemonic to help identify stroke:

Face: Ask them to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
Arms: Ask them to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
Speech: Ask them to repeat a simple sentence (for example, the sky is blue). Are the words slurred? Can they say the sentence correctly?
Time: Stroke is an emergency: call 9-1-1 if the person experiences any of the above symptoms.

If the symptoms go away quickly, can I stop worrying?

If you experience any stroke symptoms, even for just a minute or two, don’t ignore them. They may be a warning that a stroke is coming if you don’t get prompt medical attention. Brief stroke signs that disappear in less than 24 hours may mean you have experienced a “ mini-stroke,” or transient ischemic attack (TIA). A TIA happens when blood flow is blocked to parts of your brain, just like a stroke but unlike a stroke the block doesn’t last long enough to damage your brain. One in 4 people who have a TIA will have a stroke in the next 5 years. The highest stroke risk is within the first month after the TIA, so don’t wait to seek treatment. Doctors can recommend drugs or surgery to prevent stroke in people who have had a TIA. Heed the warning of a mini-stroke and get prompt medical attention it could save your life.

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