Stroke Symptoms & Warning Signs

By Tiffany Tseng. May 7th 2016

A stroke can affect your senses, speech, behavior, thoughts, memory and mobility. Since it can cause permanent brain damage and even death, it is absolutely imperative to call 9-1-1 or to seek emergency care at a hospital if you or someone you know is experiencing any signs or symptoms of a stroke. It is a serious medical emergency that needs to be addressed immediately.


A stroke occurs when blood vessels, located inside the brain, are blocked by a clot or hemorrhages. The symptoms of a stroke can vary from person to person based on the severity of the damage inflicted, as well as the type of stroke. Symptoms and warning signs can develop unexpected and suddenly, or they can gradually happen over several hours, days or weeks. When a stroke is small or subtle, symptoms may not be noticeable at all. Many people mistaken stroke symptoms for other minor discomforts of the body, but it is very important to seek emergency medical care if one or more of such warning signs occur:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, limbs or one side of the body
  • Sudden paralysis of the face, limbs or one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or difficulty understanding other people
  • Sudden trouble seeing with one or both eyes, or blurriness in vision
  • Sudden trouble with motility, dizziness, loss of balance, coordination or control of muscles
  • Sudden, splitting headache accompanied with extreme pressure and a throbbing sensation

The location of one's stroke symptoms depends on which side of the brain is affected - a defect on one side of the brain will affect the opposite side of the body. For example, if the left side of the body is having problems, then the right side of the brain is having a stroke.

Symptoms usually happen as a result of the death of the affected brain tissue. Sometimes, an individual may collapse within minutes of the first symptoms. The size of the blockage in the brain will also determine the severity of symptoms. Large blood clots can cause symptoms to develop suddenly, while smaller blockages have more subtle symptoms. It is possible to experience multiple strokes at once, since blockages can appear in varied locations in the brain. Stroke symptoms can also occur over a span of hours or days. At first, the affected individual may experience little or no symptoms, but as time passes, the symptoms will become more apparent.

Different types of stroke share very similar symptoms. If an individual experiences mild stroke symptoms that recover after a short period of time, then he or she may have experienced a transient ischemic attack (TIA), otherwise known as a "mini stroke." While TIAs are not often deadly, they are serious precursors to a full-blown ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke that may follow if symptoms are left untreated. Hemorrhagic strokes are the deadliest type of stroke, as affected individuals may collapse within minutes after the first onset of symptoms and may remain unconscious. Therefore, TIAs should not be ignored and should instead be met with prompt medical attention.

Warning Signs

In addition to looking out for yourself, one should always be on alert for warning signs of stroke in other individuals around you. If someone loses control of their facial muscles, starts drooling, has slurred speech or suddenly has trouble comprehending your conversation, then he or she may be experiencing symptoms of a stroke, and you should immediately call 9-1-1. Basic motor skills and communication may also further be affected.

Many times, people overlook symptoms as minor discomforts or signs of other illnesses, since strokes share symptoms with other medical conditions. For example, sudden confusion or inability to comprehend conversation in the elderly may be misinterpreted by others as symptoms for dementia, a degenerative brain condition that commonly affects older people. Sudden, splitting headaches and blurriness of vision may be misinterpreted as a bad case of migraine. In such cases, it is advisable that you make an independent judgment call on whether to seek medical help. If emergency protocols are taken, then make sure to document the time of the first onset of stroke symptoms, as treatment is crucial within a certain time frame. Waiting too long can result in permanent damage, or even death.

It is best to take preventative measures against stroke symptoms in general, and have a healthy lifestyle. Make sure that you report any symptoms that cause you worry or suspicion, even if you think that they are minor, as stroke symptoms and warning signs are a serious indicator of the possibility of stroke. Seek a medical opinion immediately.

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