Signs and Symptoms of Stroke

A stroke occurs when blood circulation is cut off in the brain—causing a medical emergency that warrants immediate attention. When blood doesn’t reach brain cells, they don’t get the oxygen and nutrients they need and begin to die within minutes.

As a result, you can experience facial drooping, weakness in the limbs, confusion, slurred speech, and severe headache, among other symptoms. Knowing the symptoms of stroke and seeking medical care quickly is critical to prevent serious complications or death from occurring.

Common Symptoms

There are two main types of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic. Generally, symptoms of stroke tend to be similar despite the type of stroke you or someone else is having. However, symptoms can range in severity depending on the artery (blood vessel) in the brain that is affected.

Strokes can be very dangerous—and not only can they lead to permanent disability, they're also the fifth leading cause of death in the U.S. That's why it's important to look out for the following symptoms:

  • Numbness: Feeling numb, having a droopy face, or experiencing paralysis on one side of the body is common. You may feel weak or unable to move during this time. 
  • Cognitive (brain-related) symptoms: Cognitive symptoms of a stroke can set on quickly. These include sudden bouts of confusion, slurred or abnormal speech, difficulty understanding what others are saying, and problems with memory.
  • Visual symptoms: A stroke can also disrupt your eyes, causing symptoms such as temporary loss of vision in one or both eyes, blurriness, and difficulty seeing and focusing on objects.
  • Motor symptoms: It's also common to experience difficulties with movement, such as a loss of balance, difficulty walking, dizziness, and loss of motor control.
  • Other symptoms: Some people might have a severe headache that suddenly arises with no other known cause, nausea, and vomiting.

While these symptoms are most common, regardless of the type of stroke you or someone else is having, symptoms can slightly vary depending on the artery in your brain that becomes blocked.

Transient Ischemic Attack Symptoms

In some cases, people experience a transient ischemic attack, which is a warning sign and precursor of stroke. Though an ischemic attack is not viewed as serious as a stroke, this is still a medical emergency.

Symptoms of an ischemic attack typically lasting only 10 to 20 minutes—rarely over an hour–and often mimic the symptoms of a stroke. You may likely experience numbness or weakness, speech difficulties, and blurring or loss of vision in one eye.

Medial Cerebral Artery Stroke Symptoms

When strokes affect the medial cerebral artery (MCA)—a major artery that separates the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain—you might experience the following symptoms:

  • Weakness in one arm or limb
  • Drooping on one side of the face
  • Speech problems
  • Difficulties with comprehension

Lobes of the Brain

  • Frontal lobe: Controls your executive functioning, such as problem solving, decision making, memory, and learning
  • Temporal lobe: Gives you the ability to understand language and controls your hearing
  • Parietal lobe: Helps your process sensory information and manages your senses, including touch, temperature, pressure, and pain
  • Occipital lobe: Manages your visual perception and eyesight, including recognizing shapes and colors, seeing objects, and recognizing visual stimuli

Anterior Cerebral Artery Stroke Symptoms

If a stroke affects your anterior cerebral artery—a blood vessel that supplies the frontal and parietal lobes of the brain—becomes blocked, you might experience:

  • Impaired judgment
  • Loss of sight or blurry vision on one side
  • Weakness or numbness on one side
  • Urinary incontinence (not being able to hold in your pee)
  • Changes in walking pattern or the inability to lift your feet

Posterior Cerebral Artery Stroke Symptoms

The two posterior cerebral arteries supply blood to the occipital lobes of the back of the brain. If blood flow in either of these arteries becomes interrupted, you may experience cognitive symptoms such as:

  • Blindness in one or both eyes
  • Sudden changes in mood
  • Difficulty recognizing or making out objects
  • Trouble remembering things

Vertebral/Basilar Artery Stroke Symptoms

If the vertebral or basilar arteries—major vessels that supply blood to the back of the brain—are blocked due to a stroke, you can have the following symptoms:

  • Rapid and repetitive eye movements (known as nystagmus)
  • Dizziness
  • Double-vision
  • Blindness in one eye
  • Trouble understanding language
  • Difficulty swallowing (known as dysphagia)
  • Fainting
  • Tingling in the face (known as facial hyperesthesia)
  • Loss of coordination or motor skills

When to See a Healthcare Provider 

Any sign of a stroke is a medical emergency and warrants visiting the emergency department or calling 911. As laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an acronym, FAST, can help you remember the signs of a stroke in another person. This stands for:

  • Face (F): Facial symptoms such as drooping or an uneven smile
  • Arms (A): Arm weakness or numbness, which can sometimes affect one whole side of the body
  • Speech (S): Speaking problems such as trouble forming words or having slurred speech
  • Time (T): Time to seek immediate help if you're noticing any of the above symptoms

A Quick Review 

A stroke occurs when something restricts blood flow to your brain, causing a variety of symptoms including weakness or paralysis in the face or limbs, vision problems, speech difficulties, and loss of balance, among others. A stroke is a medical emergency and can be fatal or lead to permanent disability. If you notice signs of someone having a stroke, it's critical to seek medical care immediately.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stroke signs and symptoms.

  2. Tadi P, Lui F. Acute stroke. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

  3. American Association of Neurological Surgeons. Stroke.

  4. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Stroke symptoms.

  5. Nogles TE, Galuska MA. Middle cerebral artery stroke. StatPearls [Internet].

  6. Jawabri KH, Sharma S. Physiology, cerebral cortex functions. In: StatPearls. StatPearls Publishing; 2022.

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