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Home Stroke Stroke symptoms and early signs

Stroke symptoms and early signs

A stroke is a potentially life-threatening condition that requires fast medical attention for the best possible outcome for the patient; first to diagnose the type of stroke that may have occurred, and then to start the correct treatment as soon as possible.  The elderly are at high risk of a stroke, and when speed is of the essence, knowing the early signs and symptoms is critical. This guide explains common stroke symptoms, the early signs and how to spot them.

Symptoms of stroke

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is disrupted either through a blood clot which prevents the supply to the brain, or a bleed on the brain due to ruptured blood vessels. 100,000 people suffer a stroke every year, and the most common stroke symptoms to be aware of are:

  1. Sudden numbness or weakness on one side of the face, arm, or leg.
  2. Difficulty speaking or understanding speech.
  3. Severe headache without an apparent cause.
  4. Loss of balance or coordination.
  5. Confusion, trouble with comprehension, or difficulty in understanding others.
  6. Blurred vision or sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes.
  7. Dizziness or a sudden, unexplained fall.

A good way to remember the symptoms of a stroke is the FAST acronym:

F             Face: numbness in the face (one side may drop, one eye or one side of the mouth)

A             Arms: ability to raise both arms above the head

S             Speech: maybe confused or garbled

T             Time: to call 999

Spotting the early signs of a stroke

Elderly people may experience certain warning signs before a stroke occurs. Recognizing them is essential and early signs of a stroke to look out for include:

Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA)

Often referred to as a “mini-stroke,” TIAs have symptoms of a stroke outlined above, that resolve within a short time, often within hours.  TIAs should never be ignored, as they can be a warning sign of a stroke, most likely to occur in the weeks and months following a TIA.  Even if all the symptoms disappear within a short period of time, medical advice should be taken to identify the causes and reduce the risks of a future stroke.  You can read more in our Guide to TIAs.  

High blood pressure

The single biggest risk factor in half of all strokes, the symptoms of high blood pressure include dizziness, nose bleeds, headaches or blurred vision.  Regular medical check-ups, changes to lifestyle such as diet and exercise, and in some cases taking medication will help to reduce high blood pressure.

Atrial Fibrillation (AF):

Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm that increases the risk of blood clots and strokes. Symptoms to be aware of include heart palpitations, chest pains or shortness of breath, and medical advice should be sought for any of these.

Action and Diagnosis to deal with symptoms of a stroke

When a stroke is suspected, fast action in terms of diagnosis and treatment can make a significant difference in recovery.

  1. Do Not Delay: don’t delay seeking medical attention by waiting to see if the stroke symptoms will improve on their own. Much better to be safe rather than sorry and to dial 999.
FAST acronym for stroke diagnosis
  1. 2.Dial 999 immediately: to request an ambulance if you are concerned you or a relative may be having a stroke. Provide clear information about the symptoms and mention the possibility of a stroke, as this may help the speed of the response and where the patient is taken. Most hospitals have an Acute Stroke unit where initial diagnosis and tests will be carried out.
  2. Rapid Medical Evaluation: Upon arrival at the hospital, medical professionals will conduct a thorough evaluation, which may include physical examinations, brain imaging such as a CT scan or MRI, and blood tests. Medication such as blood thinners to dissolve blood clots may be started very quickly upon diagnosis.

  3. Treatment Options: The medical treatment depends on the type of stroke. Ischaemic strokes, caused by a blockage in a blood vessel, may be treated with medication – blood thinners – to dissolve the clot or with a procedure called mechanical thrombectomy. Hemorrhagic strokes, caused by bleeding in the brain, may require medication to reduce blood pressure, or possibly in some cases surgery to stop the bleeding.

4. Rehabilitation and Recovery: following initial treatment, stroke survivors may undergo rehabilitation to help with their recovery. 

The type and severity of the stroke, its location in the brain, the speed of diagnosis and early treatment, all impact the likely short-term and longer term effects of a stroke. 

rehabilitation for stroke recovery

Some people may recover quickly,  but many may need longer-term support and rehabilitation/reablement for physical and/or psychological effects.  Physiotherapy, speech therapy, occupational therapy or rehabilitation may be needed to help patients adapt to changes post stroke, and to continue with their every day living as fully as possible.

Know the signs of a stroke and acting quickly

You may have seen the tv ads to raise awareness of the signs of a stroke.  As speed of response really can make all the difference knowing what signs to look for is vital.  But there is much that can be done to reduce the risk of having a stroke in the first place, such as a healthy diet, regular exercise and regular medical check ups.  And, of course, its never too late to start.

Stroke Association is a national charity providing support, information and resources for anyone who has had a stroke.  You can find their local services in our county hubs.