Can You Recognize the Signs of a Stroke?

Quiz yourself to see if you can spot a stroke while it’s unfolding.

face of cell phone, hand of person dialing 911

Medically reviewed in February 2022

Updated on February 17, 2022

When a stroke occurs, quick action could mean the difference between life and death, consciousness and coma, mobility and paralysis. The clot or bleed that caused the stroke reduces blood flow to the brain, and prompt treatment is necessary to reduce the chance of permanent brain damage. The sooner the person suffering a stroke can get to the hospital (ideally within minutes of when symptoms start), the sooner they will have access to treatments and the better their outlook.

But many people are not aware of stroke signs and are unable to tell when a stroke is occurring. Are you one of them? Could you tell if you or someone else was having a stroke? Take this quiz and find out.

Question 1: Jessica is a healthy 36-year-old woman. She wakes up one morning feeling groggy, with clammy hands. She feels a little dizzy and has pins and needles in her legs. A few hours pass and these symptoms go away. Could they signal a stroke?

a. Yes, this could definitely be a stroke
b. No, this doesn’t sound like a stroke

Answer: Yes. Jessica’s feelings of dizziness and the tingling in her legs could be symptoms of a transient ischemic attack (TIA). Sometimes called a "mini stroke," a TIA is a warning that you could have a stroke in the near future. Symptoms like sudden loss of vision, weakness on one side of the body, and difficulty speaking and/or walking, as well as the ones Jessica experienced, may last minutes or hours and then pass. Though the elderly are at highest risk of stroke, younger people can have strokes, too. Roughly one-third of people who are hospitalized for stroke in a given year are under the age of 65.

Question 2: Julius, a 70-year-old smoker with high cholesterol, has a pounding headache. He begins having slurred speech and his vision becomes blurred. What steps should Julius take?

a. Take some aspirin and rest
b. Make an appointment with his healthcare provider
c. Call 911

Answer: Call 911. Julius is displaying three stroke warning signs: headache, slurred speech, and blurred vision. And he has three factors that make him a more likely stroke candidate: his age, his tobacco habit, and his cholesterol level. Stroke risk doubles every decade over age 55. High cholesterol can cause arteries to narrow and decrease blood flow to the brain, increasing the risk of stroke. Tobacco use causes blood vessels to narrow, which can increase blood pressure and, in turn, stroke risk.

Question 3: Sixty-five-year-old Claire suddenly starts shaking and convulsing in her office and her heart rate speeds up. Is she having a stroke?

a. Yes, this is exactly what a stroke looks like
b. No, this sounds like it's something else

Answer: No. Sudden body movements like shaking and convulsing are not typical stroke symptoms. Claire may be having a seizure, however, so she needs prompt medical attention. In addition, because Claire is over age 60, an unexplained seizure could put her at an increased risk for stroke. A key 2004 study in The Lancet found that a first-time seizure after age 60 means an almost threefold higher risk of stroke, and later studies have confirmed a strong link between “late-onset” seizure and stroke risk.

Question 4: Twelve-year-old Ethan is outside playing an aggressive game of basketball. After a couple of hard knocks, he tells his friends he cannot feel his arm and has no control over it. He goes home and tells his parents that his arm feels "heavy." What should Ethan’s parents do?

a. Make an appointment with the pediatrician
b. Wait a few days to see if his symptoms go away
c. Call 911

Answer: Call 911. Although strokes are uncommon in children, they do occur, and younger patients may try to ignore or rationalize their symptoms. Tearing, or dissection, of an artery is one potential cause of stroke in young people. It can result from sudden twisting or trauma to the neck or head, which then closes off blood supply to parts of the brain.

Remember B.E. F.A.S.T. to recognize the signs of stroke
If you suspect a stroke, acting fast is key because earlier treatment means better odds of recovery. Think B.E. F.A.S.T. to spot the signs:

  • Balance: Is the person suddenly uncoordinated or having trouble with balance?
  • Eyes: Is the person having suddenly blurred or double vision, or sudden, painless vision loss in either or both eyes?
  • Face: Drooping or numbness on one side of the face is a common stroke sign. Ask the person to smile and see if the smile is uneven. 
  • Arms: Is there arm weakness? Ask them to raise both arms. Does one arm drift down? 
  • Speech: Slurred speech is also a stroke sign. Ask them to repeat a simple phrase, such as “The sky is blue.” Can they do it? 
  • Time: If any of these signs is present, call 911 immediately. Call even if the signs go away. There may have been a mini-stroke, which can warn of a bigger stroke to come.

Why do stroke signs and symptoms vary?
Strokes affect people in different ways depending on the type of stroke, the area of the brain affected, and the extent of the brain injury.

A stroke can affect speech, motor activity, cognitive ability, behavior, memory, and/or emotions. Paralysis or weakness on one side of the body is common, and in many cases, the person may fall down. But a stroke does not have to produce severe symptoms to cause damage. A patient may experience only mild dizzy spells, loss of balance, or numbness and discount the symptoms as something else.

Know the signs, and act fast
Stroke is treatable, but the treatment window is brief. Learn to recognize the warning signs, and if stroke is suspected, dial 911 immediately. Don't wait to see if the symptoms go away. Time is crucial to save brain cells and lives.

Article sources open article sources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Leading Causes of Death. Page last reviewed January 13, 2022.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Stroke Facts. Page last reviewed May 25, 2021.
Mayo Clinic. Transient Ischemic Attack. March 7, 2020.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. Risk Factors for Stroke. Accessed February 10, 2022.
Brigo F, Tezzon F, Nardone R. Late-onset seizures and risk of subsequent stroke: a systematic review. Epilepsy Behav. 2014;31:9-12.
Ben-Menachem E. Epilepsy as a warning sign for stroke. Epilepsy Curr. 2005;5(1):42-43.
Cleary P, Shorvon S, Tallis R. Late-onset seizures as a predictor of subsequent stroke. Lancet. 2004;363(9416):1184-1186.
Brigo F, Nardone R. Late-onset seizures: a subclinical cerebrovascular disorder?. Expert Rev Neurother. 2017;17(8):751-753.
Wall J, Knight J, Emsley HCA. Late-onset epilepsy predicts stroke: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Epilepsy Behav. 2021;115:107634.
American Stroke Association. Pediatric Stroke Causes and Recovery. Last Reviewed June 18, 2021.
Cedars-Sinai. Carotid Dissection. Accessed February 15, 2022.
McCrea N, Saunders D, Bagkeris E, Chitre M, Ganesan V. Diagnosis of vertebral artery dissection in childhood posterior circulation arterial ischaemic stroke. Dev Med Child Neurol. 2016;58(1):63-69.
American Stroke Association. Emotional & Behavioral Effects of Stroke. Accessed February 15, 2022.

More On

5 Habits That Stop Strokes

article

5 Habits That Stop Strokes
Did you know that, of the most common type of stroke, 80 percent are preventable? The good news is that there are a number of easy lifestyle changes y...
What You Need to Know About Vascular Parkinsonism

article

What You Need to Know About Vascular Parkinsonism
Former President George H.W. Bush went skydiving to celebrate his 85th birthday in 2009. Less than three years later, his son Jeb revealed that he was...
How to Respond to Signs of a Stroke

article

How to Respond to Signs of a Stroke
Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death and a major cause of disability in adults in the United States. Stroke takes the lives of over 150,000 Amer...
Strokes in Young People: Are the Numbers Really on the Rise?

article

Strokes in Young People: Are the Numbers Really on the Rise?
Age is a major risk factor for having a stroke, and the risk of stroke doubles each decade after age 55. That doesn’t mean that adults in their 20s, 3...
What You Need to Know About Stroke

article

What You Need to Know About Stroke
About 795,000 Americans suffer a stroke every year and of those, about 150,000 die, making stroke the fifth leading cause of death in the United State...