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How to identify a stroke

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 2 minutes read

If you suspect that you or someone else is having a stroke, phone the emergency services immediately and request an ambulance. During a stroke, every minute is vital to reduce the brain damage that a stroke can cause. Knowing the signs and symptoms of a stroke can save someone’s life.

Signs of a stroke - FAST

The acronym FAST is an easy way to remember the symptoms.

  • Face – the face may have sagged on 1 side, the person may not be able to smile, or their mouth or eye may have drooped.
  • Arms – the person may be unable to lift both arms and keep them there because of weakness or numbness in one arm.
  • Speech – their speech may be slurred or garbled, or the person may not be able to talk at all despite appearing to be awake; they may also have problems understanding what you're saying to them.
  • Time – it's time to dial the emergency services immediately if you notice any of these signs or symptoms.

Other symptoms of a stroke

FAST (face, arms, speech, time) can identify most strokes, however, sometimes a stroke can present with different symptoms, such as:

  • Complete paralysis of 1 side of the body
  • Sudden loss or blurring of vision
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty understanding what other people are saying
  • Problems with balance and coordination
  • Difficulty swallowing (known medically as dysphagia)
  • A sudden and very severe headache resulting in a blinding pain unlike anything experienced before
  • Loss of consciousness

TIA (mini stroke)

Transient ischemic attack, also known as TIA or mini-stroke, is when a part of your brain has a reduced blood supply, like a stroke, but the symptoms only last for a short period and have fully resolved by 24 hours. TIA's still need urgent medical attention, as they present exactly like a stroke and so must be treated with the same urgency. If the symptoms resolve, this is still a serious problem as it can be a sign of an underlying condition and may later lead to a full stroke. Unfortunately, some people ignore TIAs as their symptoms resolve; however, medical attention must be sought immediately by calling the emergency services.

If you think you have had a TIA before, but the symptoms have since passed, and you did not seek medical advice at the time, make an urgent appointment with a doctor to discuss this further.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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