Stroke symptoms and signs

Stroke is the No. 1 cause of disability in the U.S. However, recognizing a stroke early can save you or your loved one from being paralyzed, stuck in a wheelchair, or even unable to speak or eat on your own. If you see signs of a stroke, call 911 immediately!

The signs of a stroke can appear without warning. Only 2% of Americans get proper treatment for stroke; many who experience stroke symptoms are not aware that they're having a stroke. Even a famous stroke neurologist could not tell that she was having a stroke as it happened to her.

Signs of stroke

In general, stroke signs can be identified with the F.A.S.T. system:

  • F — Face drooping: Does the person’s face droop on one side, or is it numb? Is the smile uneven? Can the person smile and show all their teeth?
  • A — Arm weakness: Is the arm numb? Are the arms equally strong? Can the person raise both arms and hold them up? Are they at equal height?
  • S — Speech difficulty: Is it slurred or garbled? Can the person speak normal sentences? Ask the person to say a simple sentence and see if you understand.
  • T — Time: Don't waste it! If you or someone you love has any signs of stroke, call 911 immediately! Doctors have only a few hours from the start of the stroke to have a chance to reverse some of the disability.

Symptoms of stroke

If you’re having a stroke, you might experience a headache, 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 cough, bend or strain

These stroke symptoms depend on the severity of the stroke and the part of the brain affected:

  • Numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding; sluggish speech
  • Blurred vision or trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Unexplained dizziness, confusion, or loss or balance and coordination
  • Sudden or severe headache with no known cause

What to do

Call 911 immediately if there are signs or symptoms of stroke. Do not attempt to transport yourself or the person suffering a stroke to the hospital on your own. Calling 911 ensures that the person having a stroke receives potentially lifesaving treatment on the way to the hospital and gets the fastest access to emergency room care. Don’t hesitate to ask the paramedics to go to the closest certified Primary Stroke Center.

Reacting quickly to the signs and symptoms of stroke makes it possible for HonorHealth stroke teams to provide the newest medications and treatments. For example, clot-busting treatments for ischemic strokes can be used only within three hours after the first signs of stroke.

Remember, stroke is a medical emergency, and "time is brain." The sooner you get medical treatment, the greater the chances of limiting brain cell damage.