Identifying stroke symptoms early can make the difference between the person’s life and death, cure and permanent disability.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 795,000 Americans develop a stroke each year. Out of these, about 130,000 Americans succumb to it each year. This makes stroke the third most common medical cause of death in the United States.

These statistics simply tell you that leaving stroke unattended can cause serious permanent disability and death.

Nearly 75 percent of all strokes are seen in elderly people above the age of 65 years and the risk of suffering from a stroke doubles each decade after the age of 55. This is because it is at this age of life that you start harboring certain risk factors.

Recognizing the symptoms and signs and getting the patient to the hospital early, therefore, is of paramount importance. It can save the patient’s life and cut the morbidity risk.

The symptoms of a transient ischemic attack (TIA) and an early ischemic stroke are similar. In the case of a TIA, however, the symptoms resolve within 24 hours without causing any permanent damage.

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have jointly introduced useful education literature to bring about awareness among the population about the symptoms of stroke and the need for immediate hospitalization.

According to its causes, stroke is classified as

  • Ischemic in which a thrombus or a clot or an embolus blocks an artery to or in the brain
  • Hemorrhagic in which an artery in the brain bursts and spills blood leading to brain hemorrhage

Stroke acronym for its symptoms

The American Heart Association has created an acronym (memory tool) as an easy and simple way to identify the first and early signs of a stroke. If someone you know might be having a stroke, it’s important to think and act F.A.S.T.

You can recognize a stroke early from its symptoms, which are typical. Here is the acronym that defines the presentation of stroke: F.A.S.T

“F”  stands for facial drooping or facial paralysis usually of one side of the face caused by damage to the nerves that control the muscles of the affected part of the brain. This is seen as a crooked smile.

“A” stands for arm weakness indicated by the inability to raise one arm completely.

“S” stands for speech difficulties indicated by slurred speech or difficulty in speaking

“T” stands for time to call medical emergency services. Any of the above symptoms call for immediate medical emergency help.

You should know that one side of the brain controls the opposite side of the body. A stroke on the left side will, therefore, produce symptoms on the right side of the body.

Early warning signs of stroke

You may experience any or all the signs that appear early on and tell you are having a stroke. They appear abruptly. They may appear separately or in combination.

  • Sudden confusion, difficulty in speaking or understanding speech
  • One-sided numbness or muscle weakness of the face, arm, or leg of sudden onset
  • Sudden onset of visual disturbances in one or both eyes and/or involuntary rapid eye movements
  • Sudden onset of giddiness and loss of balance or vertigo leading to difficulty in walking
  • Severe headache of sudden onset. It is necessary here for people who suffer from migraine to distinguish a headache from a stroke. The difference can be quite subtle. A stroke headache comes on suddenly. Additionally, one arm goes numb, you can’t speak and you lose vision. In a migraine, you do not lose vision but you see flashing lights or zigzag lines. Secondly, migraine headaches mostly have a previous history
  • Sensory disturbances lead to reduced sensation to touch
  • Sudden development of difficulty in swallowing, limping, or rapid involuntary eye movements

Unique stroke symptoms in women

Women may report symptoms that are different from the common symptoms. They can include:

  • Loss of consciousness or fainting
  • General weakness
  • Difficulty or shortness of breath
  • Confusion, unresponsiveness, or disorientation
  • Sudden behavioral change
  • Agitation
  • Hallucination
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Pain
  • Seizures
  • Hiccups

Do stroke symptoms appear gradually or suddenly?

The onset of stroke symptoms varies and depends on

  • the type of stroke that has developed, whether it is an ischemic stroke or a hemorrhagic stroke
  • where it has occurred. The origin of the stroke is usually seen either in the carotid or basilar arteries from where the clot can break free, travel through the bloodstream, and block an artery in the brain.
  • how severe it is

Symptoms of stroke are usually of sudden onset, but can also develop over hours. For example, you may develop weakness on one side of the body. Over time, you may lose control over that part and not be able to move it at all.

Again, the development of several small strokes can have gradual adverse effects on your walking, balance, thinking, or behavior.

The symptoms of a stroke caused by a large embolus develop suddenly. Symptoms such as headaches and seizures develop within seconds. Similarly, symptoms of a hemorrhagic stroke onset suddenly.

When a thrombus is the cause of a stroke, the onset usually occurs gradually, over minutes, or even hours. Rarely, symptoms can develop gradually over days or even weeks.

How long do the stroke symptoms last? Do they go away?

The symptoms of a transient ischemic attack generally last from a few minutes to about 1 to 2 hours. At times, the symptoms may linger for 24 hours.

In the case of a non-TIA stroke, the timeline of the symptoms varies from person to person. The symptoms may go away and come back or they may totally disappear. In some people, the symptoms may become worse.

Can the symptoms be reversed or are they permanent? 

The most important criterium to answer this question is the time elapsed in starting the treatment.

Some will pass through the stroke with minor side effects while others may have to endure paralysis throughout life.

In the treatment of ischemic stroke, very significant research has been made, which makes it possible to dissolve the clot and restore the blood supply that has been interrupted.

A quick diagnosis as to the cause of the stroke and prompt treatment can prevent brain cells from dying and the onset of dangerous complications. Therefore, the prognosis of stroke, vis-à-vis temporary and permanent disability depends greatly on the promptness of the treatment.