How do I know if someone is having a stroke?
Most people can diagnose stroke accurately with a little knowledge and training. The main thing is to know the symptoms of a stroke. If you’re near someone who might be having a stroke, ask a couple questions about what’s wrong. Based on the answers you can get a pretty good idea of what’s going on.
Just by listening you can assess any problems with speech: if the speech is slurred, if the person is using the wrong words, if they’re not making sense. Then you can ask the patient to smile, and check to see if one cheek is weak or paralyzed. Ask the patient to hold her arms up, see if there’s an obvious difference to how one arm’s moving. Ask them to hold both arms straight out in front and if one’s slipping back down, then that’s a sign of a more minor type of weakness. Ask them to walk; balance problems are another sign of a stroke. 
For an easy way to remember the signs of stroke, think of the word "FAST" (Face, Arm, Speech, Time). FACE: Does the person's face look uneven or droop to one side? ARM: Does the person have new weakness or numbness in one or both of their arms (or legs)? If he holds his arms out in front of him, does one arm drift down? SPEECH: Does the person have any trouble speaking or slurred speech? TIME: If you notice any one of the symptoms of stroke (in the face, arms, or speech), you should call 911 FAST! Recognizing the signs of a stroke early may be the best chance that person has for a better recovery.
This simple three-step test, developed by researchers, is highly effective in identifying a stroke. If you suspect a stroke, try the following three things -- if the person fails any of them, get to the ER as quickly as possible for an evaluation:
  • Smile. Ask the person to smile. Look for asymmetry (unevenness) in their facial expression (for example, if one corner of their mouth droops).
  • Raise both arms. Ask the person to raise both arms. Look for asymmetry in the height they can raise them.
  • Repeat a simple sentence. Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, such as, "No ifs, ands, or buts." Check for slurring or other disruption of speech.
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During a stroke, every second counts. B.E. F.A.S.T! Call 911 if you see any of the stroke symptoms below:

  • B: Balance. Is there a sudden loss of balance or coordination? (To check, ask the person to walk a straight line or touch each finger to his nose.)
  • E: Eyes. Are there sudden vision changes? (To check, ask if the person has double vision or cannot see out of one eye.)
  • F: Face. Does one side of the face droop? (To check, ask the person to smile.)
  • A: Arm. Does one arm drift downward? (To check, ask the person to raise both arms.)
  • S: Speech. Are the words slurred? Is speech confused? (To check, ask the person to repeat a sentence.)
  • T: Time the symptoms began. When was the person last seen looking or acting normally? Write down the exact time symptoms began. Give this information to paramedics.
Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
If you even vaguely suspect someone (you?) is having a stroke, act F-A-S-T. It's short for:
  • Face. Ask the person to smile (if it's you, look in a mirror). If one side droops, it could be a stroke.
  • Arms. Ask the person to raise them. If one arm drifts downward, it could be a stroke.
  • Speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. If the speech is garbled or strange, it could be a stroke.
  • Time. See signs? Call 911 right away.
The National Stroke Association has devised the FAST checklist ("Act FAST") to help determine whether a person is having a stroke.

If the answer to any of the questions below is yes, there's a high probability that the person is having a stroke.
  • Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Are the words slurred? Does he or she fail to repeat the sentence correctly?
  • Time: If the answer to any of these questions is yes, time is important. Call 911 or get to the hospital fast. Brain cells are dying.

Know the test to recognize the signs of a stroke:

  • F = Face: Ask the person to smile. Drooping on one side of the mouth or face is a sign of a stroke.
  • A = Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. One arm that slowly comes back down or cannot be raised is a sign of a stroke.
  • S = Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence that you say first. Speech that is slurred or strange sounding is a sign of a stroke.
  • T = Time: If you see that the person has any of these signs, it is an emergency. Call an ambulance to take the person to the hospital.

A quick check for stroke symptoms can save a stroke victim’s life. If you notice a sudden change in the appearance or behavior of someone you are with, make sure it is not a stroke. Ask that person to do these three simple things:

  • Smile. Is it the smile you know and love? Or, is one corner of the mouth drooping down?
  • Close your eyes and raise your arms. Are the arms held high together, or is one drifting back down to the side?
  • Repeat a simple phrase. Why not make it funny? If the person is fine, you can laugh about it later. Try “If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you.” Listen for slurred words and unusual sounding speech.

If you notice a droopy, lopsided smile, one arm held lower than the other or drifting down on its own, or slurred speech without reasonable explanations, call 911 immediately and tell the operator that you are with someone who needs to get to a stroke treatment center as quickly as possible.

American Red Cross
As with other sudden illnesses, looking or feeling ill, or behaving in a strange way, are common general signs of a stroke or mini-stroke. Specific signs include:
  • Sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm, or leg, usually on only one side of the body
  • Facial droop or drooling
  • Trouble speaking or understanding others' speech
  • Loss of vision, blurred vision, or dimmed vision in one or both eyes; the pupils may be of unequal size
  • Sudden severe headache, perhaps described as “the worst headache ever”
  • Dizziness, confusion, agitation, loss of consciousness, or other severe altered mental status
  • Loss of balance or coordination, trouble walking, or ringing in the ears
  • Incontinence
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiology (Cardiovascular Disease)
A stroke can happen suddenly and may be hard to detect. Dr. Oz reveals in this video what everyone should do if they think someone is having a stroke.

Continue Learning about Stroke Warning Signs & Symptoms

Stroke Warning Signs & Symptoms

Stroke Warning Signs & Symptoms

It's important to take action at the first sign of a stroke to prevent death and minimize its damage to your health. Signs of stroke include any sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body, change or loss of vision, troubl...

e speaking or understanding speech, dizziness or imbalance and severe headache. One way to remember stroke symptoms is to use the acronym FAST: face, arms, speech and time. If you see anyone experiencing drooping of the face, problems with raising an arm or slurred speech, call 911 right away. Learn more about recognizing stroke in men and women and what to do when someone is experiencing a stroke with expert advice from Sharecare.

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.