What are the symptoms of a stroke?
By Elizabeth Paolucci, PharmD Sep 20, 2022 • 5 min
A stroke occurs when something blocks blood supply to your brain or when a blood vessel in your brain bursts, interrupting oxygen getting to your brain. This blockage or burst can cause your brain cells to become damaged or die.
Symptoms of a stroke
The signs and symptoms of a stroke can include:
- Sudden numbness or weakness on one side of your face, arm or leg
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech
- Sudden trouble seeing
- Sudden trouble walking or loss of balance
- Sudden severe headache
Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in women. Women can be at an increased risk for having a stroke due to high blood pressure (particularly during pregnancy), the use of certain types of birth control (especially if women using these birth control medicines also smoke) and higher rates of depression in women.
Some evidence suggests that stroke symptoms may appear differently in some women than in men. While women can experience the common signs and symptoms of a stroke, they may also experience less common symptoms, including:
- Change in consciousness or disorientation
- Difficulty breathing
- Palpitations (sensation that the heart is racing)
- Feeling weak all over
What is a transient ischemic attack (TIA)?
A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain that usually lasts no more than five minutes. It’s a medical emergency and may be a warning of a future stroke. TIA symptoms occur rapidly and only last a short period of time. When a TIA is over, there is no permanent damage to the brain like there may be with a major stroke. Pre-stroke signs and symptoms may start prior to an actual ischemic stroke. Nearly 10% to 15% of patients who suffer from a transient ischemic attack will have a major stroke within three months. Many call a transient ischemic attack (TIA) a “mini stroke.”
The symptoms of a mini stroke, also called a TIA, can resemble early signs and symptoms of a stroke, so it is important to seek medical attention immediately if these symptoms occur, even if they go away quickly:
- Sudden weakness, numbness, tingling or paralysis on one side of your body
- Slurred speech or difficulty understanding others
- Vision changes
- Dizziness or loss of coordination
- Sudden, severe headache
What is an ischemic stroke?
The majority of strokes are ischemic strokes that involve blocked blood flow to the brain. Ischemic stroke usually presents as the typical symptoms of a stroke, including sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, sudden confusion, loss of vision, trouble walking, loss of balance and sudden onset of a severe headache.
Do some people have strokes without realizing it?
Yes, it’s possible to have a stroke without realizing it. This is referred to as a “silent stroke.” People who experience this kind of stroke may not know it unless they have a brain scan that shows some damage on the scan. A silent stroke usually has no symptoms. However, you might have slight memory problems or slight difficulty getting around.
What are warning signs of a stroke?
Due to the block of blood flow to the brain during a stroke, cells can start to die within minutes from lack of oxygen. Every minute counts, and you can help save a life by acting FAST!
Face drooping: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.
Arm weakness: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
Speech difficulty: Is speech slurred, are they unable to speak or are they hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase, like “The grass is green.” Is the phrase repeated correctly?
Time to call 911: If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if they go away, call 911 immediately and get them to the hospital.
It is important to get to the hospital as soon as these symptoms present. Getting treatment quickly can help reduce potential damage to the brain caused by a stroke.
Clinically reviewed and updated by Nora Laberee, September 2022.
- The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. A systems approach to immediate evaluation and management of hyperacute stroke. Experience at eight centers and implications for community practice and patient care. Stroke. 1997; 28: 1530-1540
- Albers G, Caplan L, Easton D, Fayad P, Mohr J, et al. Transient Ischemic Attack – Proposal for a New Definition. New England Journal of Medicine. 2002; 347: 1713-1716