The signs and symptoms of a stroke often occur quickly. However, they can develop over hours or even days. This sometimes happens when a transient ischemic attack (TIA) — a blockage that breaks up before it damages your brain — turns into a stroke.
The type of symptoms depends on the type of stroke and the area of the brain that is affected.
Signs of a TIA or stroke may include:
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or trouble understanding speech
- Sudden numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause
- Sudden trouble seeing from one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination
The FAST test can help you remember what to do if you think someone is having a stroke.
F — Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A — Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S — Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
T — Time: If you observe any of these signs, call 9-1-1 right away. Early treatment is essential.
If you think you or someone else may be having a TIA or stroke, do not drive to the hospital or let someone else drive you. Call an ambulance so that medical personnel can begin lifesaving treatment on the way to the emergency room. During a stroke, every minute counts.
A stroke can cause lasting brain damage, long-term disability, or death. When you have a stroke, your doctor may rate how serious it is. A serious stroke means more brain was damaged. When there is significant damage, your doctor may call it a massive stroke. This can mean there may be severe complications.
After a stroke, you may develop complications.
- Dangerous blood clots may form. Being unable to move around for a long time can raise your risk of developing blood clots in the deep veins of the legs. In some cases, blood clots can break loose and travel to the lungs. Your stroke team may try to prevent these complications with medicine or a device that puts pressure on your calves to keep your blood flowing.
- Loss of bladder or bowel control can occur. Some strokes affect the muscles needed to urinate and have bowel movements. You may need a urinary catheter (a tube placed into the bladder) until you can urinate on your own. Use of these catheters can lead to urinary tract infections. You may also lose control of your bowels or be constipated.
- Loss of bone density or strength is also common. This usually happens on one side of the body. Making physical activity part of your rehabilitation can help prevent this loss. Your care team may also watch closely for osteoporosis.
- Muscle weakness or inability to move may also occur. A stroke can make your muscles become weak and stiff or cause them to spasm. This can be painful or make it hard to stand or walk around on your own. You may also have problems with balance or controlling your muscles. This puts you at risk of falling.
- Problems with language, thinking, or memory are another possible complication. Stroke may affect your ability to focus on a task or make decisions quickly. It also raises the risk of dementia.
- Seizures can occur. This is more common in the weeks after a stroke and is less likely as time goes on. If you have seizures, your stroke team may give you medicine to try to control them.
- Swelling in the brain is also possible. After a stroke, fluid may build up between the brain and the skull or in the cavities of the brain, causing swelling. Doctors may drain fluid from the brain or cut away part of the skull to relieve the pressure the fluid puts on your brain.
- You may experience loss of vision, hearing, or touch. Your ability to feel pain or temperature may be affected after a stroke, or you may have trouble seeing or hearing as well as before. Some of these changes could affect your ability to cook, read, change your clothes, or do other tasks.
- You may experience problems swallowing and pneumonia. If a stroke affects the muscles used for swallowing, you may have a hard time eating or drinking. You may also be at risk of inhaling food or drink into your lungs. If this happens, you may develop pneumonia.
- You may have difficulty speaking. If a stroke affects the muscles you use to speak, you may have trouble communicating as easily as before.