What Are the Warning Signs of Stroke?

Updated:Dec 8,2015
Stroke is a leading cause of death in America today. It’s also a major cause of severe, long-term disability. People over 55 years old have more chance of stroke, and the risk gets greater as you get older. Men, African Americans and people with diabetes or heart disease are the most at risk for stroke. About 6.6 million people who have had strokes are alive today.

To protect yourself and your loved ones from the serious effects of stroke, you should:
  • Learn your risk factors.
  • Reduce your risk factors.
  • Learn the warning signs of stroke.
  • Know what to do if you notice warning signs.
Knowing the signs of stroke is important. If you act fast and go to a hospital right away, you could reduce the effects of a stroke or save your life!

You and your family should learn the warning signs of stroke that are listed below.

You may have some or all of them:
  • 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.

How does stroke happen?

A stroke happens when a blood vessel that feeds the brain gets blocked (ischemic stroke) or bursts (hemorrhagic stroke). Then that part of the brain can’t work, and neither can the part of the body it controls.

TIAs, or transient ischemic attacks, are “warning strokes” that can happen before a major stroke. They happen when a blood clot clogs an artery for a short time. The signs of a TIA are like a stroke, but they usually last only a few minutes. If you have any of these signs, get to a hospital right away!

Uncontrolled high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, smoking and heart disease put you at a higher risk for stroke.

What should I do if I suspect a stroke?

Call 9-1-1 or the emergency response number in your area (fire department or ambulance) immediately. It's important to get to a hospital right away. Also, check the time so you'll know when the first symptoms appeared. It's very important to take immediate action. If given within 3 to 4.5 hours of the start of symptoms, a clot-busting drug may improve the chances of getting better faster.

How can I help prevent stroke?

You can help prevent a stroke if you do these things:
  • Don’t smoke, and avoid second-hand smoke.
  • Treat high blood pressure, if you have it.
  • Eat a healthy diet that’s low in saturated fat, trans fat, added sugars and salt.
  • Be physically active.
  • Reach and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Control your blood sugar if you have diabetes.
  • Follow your doctor’s orders for taking medicine.
  • Get regular medical check-ups.
How can I learn more?
  1. Call 1-800-AHA-USA1 (1-800-242-8721), or visit heart.org to learn more about heart disease and stroke.
  2. Sign up to get Heart Insight, a free magazine for heart patients and their families, at heartinsight.org.
  3. Connect with others sharing similar journeys with heart disease and stroke by joining our Support Network at heart.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 heart.org/answersbyheart 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:

How would I recover from stroke?

How is stroke different from heart attack?

©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 Artery 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?

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What is High Blood Pressure Medicine?
What Are Anticoagulants and Antiplatelet Agents?
How Do I Manage My Medicines?
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What is Coronary Bypass Surgery?
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Healthy Lifestyle and Risk Reduction
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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?