What are the warning signs of a stroke?

Warning signs of a stroke include things like change in speech, whether it's slurring of speech or difficulty finding words, facial drooping or asymmetry in the face when a person is asked to smile, weakness or numbness on one side of the body or vision problems. These signs only show that a stroke has occurred as there is no way to know a stroke is coming beforehand.

Joane Goodroe
Nursing Specialist

The sudden onset of any of the following symptoms requires immediate medical attention:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

Stroke can cause death or significant disability, such as paralysis, speech difficulties, and emotional problems. Some new treatments can reduce stroke damage if patients get medical care soon after symptoms begin. When a stroke happens, it is important to recognize the symptoms, call 9-1-1 right away, and get to a hospital quickly.

Common warning signs of stroke include drooping of one side of the face, weakness on one side of the body and trouble with speech or language. Less common signs of stroke can be double vision, vertigo (sensation of spinning or moving even if you are sitting still), loss of vision or problems with balance and coordination. These warning signs will typically come on very quickly.

Stroke affects almost 800,000 Americans annually, with one occurring, on average, every 40 seconds. Immediate treatment can significantly improve odds of survival, and it is essential to get help right away. The easy way to remember the basic signs of a stroke is with the acronym FAST.

  • Face: Look for an uneven smile, or evidence of one side of the face drooping.
  • Arm: Check to see if one arm is noticeably weaker than another.
  • Speech: Listen for slurred speech and trouble speaking.
  • Time: Call 911 at the first sign of a stroke, as every second counts in treatment.

There are instances in which mild stroke can happen with minimal or no signs.

Dr. Amy E. Balka, MD
Family Practitioner

The symptoms of an acute stroke often occur quickly and can manifest in many ways. Here is a list of common signs of a stroke:

  • Loss of strength and coordination on one side of the body 
  • Loss of feeling or numbness
  • Drooping of one side of the face
  • Vision problems 
  • Trouble speaking
  • Trouble standing and walking
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness

Signs of a stroke depend on the part of the brain that is affected, and may include any of the following five major symptoms:

  • Sudden weakness, numbness or paralysis of the face, arm or leg (especially on one side of the body)
  • Loss of speech or trouble talking or understanding language
  • Sudden blurred vision or loss of vision, particularly in only one eye
  • Sudden, severe headache with no apparent cause
  • Unexplained dizziness, loss of balance or coordination (especially if associated with any of the above symptoms)

If you have any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately because there are medications that can be given within a few hours of onset of symptoms to reduce the impact of stroke.


Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Here are a few of the more common signs a stroke is underway, and the tests that are a tipoff.

Sign: paralysis, numbness, weakness or pain in the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
Tipoff: uneven strength or symmetry when asked to show teeth, raise eyebrows, close eyes, pressing, lifting, walking or imitate a movement

Sign: sudden confusion
Tipoff: not able to recall where they are, a calendar date or their age correctly

Sign: trouble speaking or understanding speech
Tipoff: inability to identify an image, read, speak or follow directions smoothly, have slurred and incoherent speech

Sign: sudden visual disturbances or trouble seeing clearly in one or both eyes, unusual gaze
Tipoff: unable to follow finger gaze or see correct number of fingers

Sign: sudden trouble with walking, dizziness or loss of balance or coordination
Tipoff: uneven or faltering gait, failing the finger-nose-finger test

Sign: sudden severe headache
Tipoff: this is often called the worst headache you ever had

If you have any signs of stroke, even if they are fleeting, seek immediate medical attention. Call 911 or have someone drive you (do not drive yourself).

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Often a stroke victim will have no warning symptoms. However, some patients do experience warning signs in the form of a transient ischemic attack (TIA), sometimes referred to as a "mini-stroke." TIA symptoms caninclude numbness or paralysis (usually on one side of the body), difficulty speaking or understanding, and temporarily dimmed or blurred vision. These TIA symptoms resolve within a few minutes or hours (thus the term mini- stroke), but that does not mean you should not take action. Those symptoms are your body's warning to contact your doctor right away.

TIA symptoms can be caused by plaque build-up in the carotid arteries, which can be found during an examination by your doctor or through an ultrasound test of the neck arteries.

At the first signs of a stroke—a sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg especially on just one side of the body; difficulty walking, speaking, understanding or seeing with one or both eyes; sudden confusion, dizziness or loss of balance or coordination—it is crucial to get to a hospital immediately. These warning signs are the same for both types of stroke – ischemic and hemorrhagic.

A warning sign of an impending ischemic stroke is one or more transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) or "mini-strokes." During a TIA blood flow to a part of the brain is temporarily restricted, leading to transient neurological deficits. The symptoms may be the same as those of a stroke but milder, and may last only a few minutes. TIAs are critical warning signs that a stroke may be on the way in the coming days or months.

The following are signs of a stroke:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg—especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding speech.
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness or loss of balance or coordination.
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

FAST is an easy mnemonic for recognizing stroke signs: Face drooping, Arm weakness or Speech difficulty means it's Time to call 911. The National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale includes evaluation of consciousness, appropriateness of answering simple questions or performing simple tasks, gaze, visual fields, facial paralysis, strength in arms and legs, coordination, sensation, speech and articulation of words and the ability to recognize or react to surrounding stimuli as well as one's own self. Recognizing these warning signs of stroke with early intervention may in some cases lead patients to be treated before permanent brain damage occurs.

Dr. Jeffrey L. Saver, MD

Stroke can cause many different types of symptoms. But the most common severe stroke symptoms are weakness on one side of the body and trouble speaking. Therefore, the American Stroke Association tells the public to use the letters in the word F.A.S.T. to think about stroke warning signs. If anyone has sudden F = Face Drooping, A = Arm Weakness, or S = Speech Difficulty, then it is T = time to call 9-1-1.

Strokes are the fourth-leading cause of death and no. 1 cause of long-term disability in the United States. Be aware of the warning signs of a stroke, and call 911 if a stroke is suspected.

The five “sudden” signs are:

  • Sudden weakness on one side of the body
  • Sudden trouble speaking
  • Sudden change or loss of vision
  • Sudden severe dizziness or imbalance
  • Sudden severe headache

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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.