If you suspect that you or someone else is having a stroke, phone 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance.
Even if the symptoms of a stroke disappear while you are waiting for the ambulance to arrive, you or the person having the stroke should still go to hospital for an assessment. Symptoms that disappear may mean you have had a transient ischaemic attack (TIA) and you could be at risk of having a full stroke at a later stage.
After an initial assessment, you may need to be admitted to hospital to receive a more in-depth assessment and, if necessary, for specialist treatment to begin.
Recognising the signs and symptoms of a stroke
The signs and symptoms of a stroke vary from person to person but usually begin suddenly. As different parts of your brain control different parts of your body, your symptoms will depend upon the part of your brain affected and the extent of the damage.
The main stroke symptoms can be remembered with the word FAST: Face-Arms-Speech-Time.
- Face – the face may have dropped on one side, the person may not be able to smile or their mouth or eye may have drooped
- Arms – the person with suspected stroke may not be able to lift one or both arms and keep them there because of arm weakness or numbness
- Speech – their speech may be slurred or garbled, or the person may not be able to talk at all despite appearing to be awake
- Time – it is time to dial 999 immediately if you see any of these signs or symptoms
It is important for everyone to be aware of these signs and symptoms. If you live with or care for somebody in a high-risk group, such as someone who is elderly or has diabetes or high blood pressure, being aware of the symptoms is even more important.
Symptoms in the FAST test identify about nine out of 10 strokes.
Other signs and symptoms may include:
- numbness or weakness resulting in complete paralysis of one side of the body
- sudden loss of vision
- communication problems, difficulty talking and understanding what others are saying
- problems with balance and coordination
- difficulty swallowing
- sudden and severe headache, unlike any the person has had before, especially if associated with neck stiffness
- blacking out (in severe cases)
'Mini-stroke' or transient ischaemic attack (TIA)
The symptoms of a transient ischaemic attack (TIA) are the same as a stroke, last from between a few minutes to a few hours, then completely disappear. However, never ignore a TIA as it is a serious warning sign there is a problem with the blood supply to your brain.
There is about a one in 10 chance those who have a TIA will experience a full stroke during the four weeks following the TIA. If you have had a TIA, you should contact your GP, local hospital or out-of-hours service, as soon as possible.
Read more about types of stroke at The Stroke Association.