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Signs & Symptoms of Stroke

What are the warning signs of a stroke?

Sudden onset of any of the symptoms below could indicate a stroke:

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

Call 9-1-1 immediately if you or someone you know experiences these warning signs of a stroke. Time lost is brain loss! 

What causes a stroke?

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to a part of the brain is suddenly interrupted. It can be caused by a burst blood vessel (hemorrhagic stroke), which occurs in about 15 percent of strokes in the United States, or by a blockage (ischemic stroke), which accounts for about 85 percent of cases.

A patient also may experience a transient ischemic attack, also called a TIA, the effects of which pass rapidly, or a stroke-warning spell that lasts minutes or hours and is accompanied by the typical signs of a stroke.

Although the symptoms of a TIA do disappear within 24 hours by definition, TIA events are very strong predictors that a serious stroke is more likely to occur. TIAs, despite the brief nature of their symptoms, require prompt medical attention.

How can I reduce the risk of having a stroke?

The following treatable conditions are closely linked to an increased risk of stroke:

  • High blood pressure

Speak to your physician regarding prescription medications to help reduce high blood pressure. About half of patients with high blood pressure do not know they have it. Of those who know, about half do not properly control it. Eating a balanced diet, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly may also help.

  • Heart disease

Many forms of heart disease can increase the risk of stroke. Examples include valvular disease, atrial fibrillation, coronary artery disease (with or without a history of heart attacks) and heart infections. Your doctor can treat your heart disease and may prescribe medication to help prevent clot formation. If you are over 50, ask your doctor whether aspirin therapy is appropriate, even in the absence of a prior stroke or heart attack.

  • Diabetes

Treatment can prevent or delay complications of diabetes, which can include stroke.

  • High cholesterol

Lowering cholesterol has been shown to help reduce the risk of stroke. Follow your physician's advice about having your cholesterol tested and adhere to the goals set for managing your total cholesterol level, LDL cholesterol level and related risk factors.

  • Smoking

Counseling and medications are proven to help cigarette and cigar smokers quit.

  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA)

When symptoms of a stroke arise but last less than 24 hours—and most often less than 30 minutes —it is considered a TIA. It is a warning signal that requires prompt medical attention and evaluation. Treatment for TIA may include surgery or prescription of drugs.

What are the first steps to recovery after a stroke has occurred?

In the first months after a stroke, when a patient is at highest risk for another attack, continuing medical treatment and changes in lifestyle are emphasized, especially those related to blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, weight and diet.

What challenges do stroke survivors face?

A stroke often weakens one side of the body, affecting balance, gait and muscle control. Also, as many as 50 percent of all patients experience feelings of depression, which can interfere with rehabilitation efforts unless treated. They also may feel isolated, especially if mobility and communication skills are limited during the recovery period.

What is the key to a successful recovery?

A long-term rehabilitation program, treatment for depression and a strong family support system have proven critical to a patient’s successful recovery from a debilitating stroke.

Rehabilitation specialists help a patient relearn how to talk, swallow and walk, along with more complicated physical tasks (bathing, dressing) that are crucial to regaining independence.

Questions? Contact the UCI Health Comprehensive Stroke & Cerebrovascular Center at 866-STROKE-3 (866-787-6533).

View our stroke quality data ›

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