Stroke symptoms come on suddenly and include numbness or paralysis in one body part, slurred speech, changes in vision or balance, or severe headache.
A stroke occurs when blood flow to part of the brain is reduced. The exact symptoms of a stroke depend on which part of the brain is affected. In general, there will be a sudden loss of function. This happens when the part of the brain that controls that function is no longer receiving the blood flow (oxygen and nutrients) needed to work. The symptoms come on suddenly. Some of the possible symptoms include:
• Numbness or paralysis in a part of the body, usually on just one side
• Slurred speech, or difficulty understanding spoken words
• Visual changes, such as blurred vision or loss of vision in one eye
• Loss of balance or coordination
• Severe headache, often accompanied by other symptoms
A stroke may cause sudden loss of sensory or motor function in one part of the body. For instance, one side of the face may droop, while the other side continues to function normally. One arm may go suddenly numb.
If the language centers of the brain are affected, the person may suddenly lose their ability to produce or understand language. Someone having a stroke may suddenly feel confused by language, or may begin saying things that make no sense. If the parts of the brain that control the movements of the tongue, mouth, and throat needed for speech, the patient’s speech may be slurred and hard to understand.
Sudden visual changes may also occur. One eye may lose vision, or the vision in general may become blurred. Paralysis of the muscles that control the eyes can lead to double vision, as the eyes point in two different directions.
The parts of the brain that control your sense of balance and your coordination may be affected by a stroke. This may lead to dizziness, or the sense that the world is rocking beneath you and you can’t get your balance. When the muscles of one leg are affected, it can also lead to changes in the sense of balance.
Stroke may cause a severe headache. There are many causes of headache, so not every headache is caused by a stroke. Similarly, not every stroke causes a headache; in many cases, there is no pain at all associated with a stroke. However, in some types of stroke, a headache will occur. This comes on suddenly and is usually a very severe headache that is different from past headaches you have had. It may or may not be accompanied by other symptoms, such as vomiting or dizziness.
A commonly used mnemonic device for stroke symptoms is Think FAST, standing for Face, Arms, Speech, Time. Face indicates that you should check for a facial droop. Arms indicates that you should check for one arm being unable to move or feel as well as the other. Speech indicates that you should check for slurred speech or loss of comprehension. If someone has any of these symptoms, then Time is of the essence; get medical attention immediately.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Stroke: Stroke Signs and Symptoms.” CDC website (2014). http://www.cdc.gov/stroke/signs_symptoms.htm
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS). “NINDS Stroke Information Page.” NINDS website (2015). http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/stroke/stroke.htm
Mayo Clinic Staff. “Stroke: Symptoms and causes.” Mayo Clinic website (2015). http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/stroke/symptoms-causes/dxc-20117265