Let's Talk About Stroke, TIA and Warning Signs

Updated:Dec 14,2015

Stroke occurs when a blood vessel bringing blood and oxygen to the brain gets blocked or ruptures. When this happens, brain cells don’t get the blood and oxygen that they need to survive. This causes nerve cells stop working and die within minutes. Then, the part of the body they control can’t function either. The effects of stroke may be permanent depending on how many cells are lost, where they are in the brain, and other factors.

Stroke is the No. 5 cause of death and a leading cause of serious, long-term disability in America.

What is a TIA?
TIA, or transient ischemic attack, is a “minor or mini stroke” that occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery for a short time. The symptoms of a TIA are the same as those of a stroke, but they usually last only a few minutes. About 15 percent of major strokes are preceded by TIAs, so don’t ignore a TIA. Call 9-1-1 or seek emergency medical attention immediately!

Isn’t stroke hopeless?
No. Stroke is largely preventable. You can reduce your stroke risk by living a healthy lifestyle — controlling high blood pressure; not smoking; eating a healthy diet low in saturated and trans fats; being physically active; maintaining a healthy body weight; managing diabetes; and drinking alcohol moderately or not at all.

Also, much has been done to fight the effects of stroke. There is a clot-dissolving drug called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) to treat stroke. tPA can stop a stroke in progress and reduce disability from stroke by breaking up a blood clot that might be stopping the flow of blood to the brain. But to be eligible for tPA, you must seek emergency treatment right away and have a clot-caused stroke. It must be given within 3 to 4.5 hours after symptoms start. The sooner tPA is given, the greater the possibility of a better outcome after stroke.

For people with blood clots in larger arteries, tPA often does not dissolve them completely. In this case, a procedure, called mechanical thrombectomy, should be done within six hours of the first symptoms of stroke. In most cases this is done only after the patient receives IV tPA. To remove the clot, doctors thread a catheter (thin tube) with a stent through an artery in the groin up to the blocked artery in the brain. The stent opens and grabs the clot. The doctors then remove the stent with the trapped clot. If necessary, other devices may be used.

What are warning signs of stroke?
You and your family should recognize the warning signs of stroke. You may have some or all of these signs. Note the time when symptoms start and call 9-1-1 or the emergency medical number in your area. Stroke is a medical emergency!

Don’t ignore these warning signs, even if they go away. Timing is important.

Stroke Warning Signs: 

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body   
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause
F.A.S.T. is an easy way to remember how to recognize a stroke and what to do.  Spot a stroke FAST. Face drooping. Arm weakness. Speech Difficulty. Time to call 9-1-1.

Before you need to take emergency action, create a list of emergency phone numbers and keep a copy next to your phone and with you at all times.

How can I learn more?
  1. Call 1-888-4-STROKE (1-888-478-7653), or visit strokeassociation.org to learn more about heart disease and stroke.
  2. Sign up to get Stroke Connection magazine, a free magazine for stroke survivors and caregivers, at strokeconnection.org.
  3. Connect with others sharing similar journeys with stroke by joining our Support Network at strokeassociation.org/supportnetwork.
We have many other fact sheets to help you make healthier choices to reduce your risk, manage disease or care for a loved one. Visit strokeassociation.org/letstalkaboutstroke to learn more.

Do you have questions or comments for your doctor or nurse?

Take a few minutes to write your own questions for the next time you see your healthcare provider. For example:

Which facility close to me is best equipped to treat me if I am having stroke symptoms?

How can I reduce my risk for stroke?

©2015, American Heart Association

Multi-language Fact Sheet Topics

Heart-related Conditions
What is Angina?
What is an Arrhythmia?
What Is Atrial Fibrillation?
What Do My Cholesterol Levels Mean?
How Can I Improve My Cholesterol?
What Are High Blood Cholesterol and Triglycerides?
What Is High Blood Pressure?
How Can I Reduce High Blood Pressure?
High Blood Pressure and Stroke
What Is Diabetes and How Can I Manage It?
How Can I Live With Heart Failure?
What Is Heart Failure?
What Is a Heart Attack?
How Will I Recover From My Heart Attack?
What Are the Warning Signs of Heart Attack?
What Are Heart Disease and Stroke?
What is Metabolic Syndrome?
What is Peripheral Vascular Disease?

Stroke, Recovery and Caregiving
Hemorrhagic Stroke
Ischemic Stroke
Stroke, TIA and Warning Signs
What Are the Warning Signs of Stroke?
Stroke Risk Factors
Lifestyle Changes to Prevent Stroke
Stroke Diagnosis
Complications After Stroke
Changes Caused by Stroke
Emotional Changes After Stroke
Feeling Tired After a Stroke
Stroke and Aphasia
Stroke and Rehabilitation
Stroke Family Caregivers
How Should I Care for Myself as a Caregiver?

Treatment, Tests and Procedures
What is Cholesterol-Lowering Medicine?
What is High Blood Pressure Medicine?
What Are Anticoagulants and Antiplatelet Agents?
How Do I Manage My Medicines?
What Is an Implantable Cardioverter Defibrillator?
What Is a Pacemaker?
What Is Coronary Angioplasty?
What is a Stent?
What is Coronary Bypass Surgery?
What is a Coronary Angiogram?
How Can I Recover From Heart Surgery?
What is Carotid Endarterectomy?

Healthy Lifestyle and Risk Reduction
How Can I Manage My Weight?
How Can Physical Activity Become a Way of Life?
Why Should I Be Physically Active?
How Do I Follow a Healthy Diet?
How Can I Cook Healthfully?
Why Should I Limit Sodium?
How Do I Understand "Nutrition Facts" Labels?
How Can I Quit Smoking?
How Can I Manage Stress?
How Can I Make My Lifestyle Healthier?
How Can I Monitor My Cholesterol, Blood Pressure and Weight?