Warning Signs of a Stroke

Family Caregiving September 23, 2015 Print Friendly and PDF

What is a Stroke?

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States after heart disease and cancer.

A stroke happens when blood cannot flow to a part of the brain. When the brain does not get the oxygen and nutrients it needs from the blood, its cells are damaged or begin to die. If brain cells are only damaged, they sometimes can be repaired. But brain cells that have died cannot be brought back to life.

There are two major types of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic. Ischemic stroke is caused by blood clots or the narrowing of a blood vessel leading to the brain. The clot keeps blood from flowing into the brain and prevents needed oxygen and nutrients from reaching brain cells. Hemorrhagic stroke happens when a broken blood vessel causes bleeding in the brain. This break also stops oxygen and nutrients from reaching brain cells.

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of a stroke may include but are not limited to:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg–especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden problems seeing in one eye or both eyes
  • Sudden dizziness, loss of balance or trouble walking

Warning Signs

The warning signs of a stroke may last only a few minutes and then go away. Always pay attention to any stroke symptoms, even if they are fleeting. If you suspect someone may be having a stroke, the National Stroke Association recommends you act F.A.S.T.:

  • 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 (e.g. “It’s sunny today.”). Are the words slurred? Can the person repeat the sentence correctly?
  • TIME – If the person shows any of these symptoms, time is important. Call 9-1-1 immediately!


A stroke may have serious consequences for your health or the health of a loved one. For more information on how to help when health fails, visit extension.oregonstate.edu/catalog/html/pnw/pnw246/.

To rate your risk of cardiovascular disease, visit www.ces.ncsu.edu/hhb/index.htm.

For an interactive tutorial about stroke from the National Library of Medicine, MedlinePlus, visit http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/tutorials/strokes/htm/index.htm

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.