Stroke symptoms

The most common symptoms experienced when someone is having a stroke are:

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

The FAST test was developed from research designed to help paramedics to quickly identify if someone had a suspected stroke so they could take them straight to the neatest stroke unit. Since then, it has been used to help members of the public to identify suspected stroke so that they will be more likely to call the emergency services.

Facial weakness – Can the person smile? Has their mouth or an eye drooped?

Arm weakness – Can the person use both arms?

Speech problems – Can the person

Time – if the answer to any of the above questions is “yes then it’s time to call the emergency services – Time is Brain.

Different versions of FAST are used in countries across Europe. Stroke guidelines and the Stroke Action Plan for Europe all call on countries to run stroke symptom recognition campaigns.

The persistence of stroke symptoms depends on the speed of treatment and the severity of the stroke. A transient ischaemic attack (TIA) is when stroke symptoms resolve within the 24 hours. TIAs should always be investigated because they can be a sign of a dramatically increased risk of having a major stroke.

Around a third of people who have a stroke make a very good recovery.  But many are left with continuing stroke symptoms – weakness of paralysis on one side of the body and speech problems (aphasia) are the most common.  Interventions such as physiotherapy and speech and language therapy can help people to regain their mobility and speech. But many stroke survivors are left permanently disabled. Stroke is the biggest cause of severe adult disability in Europe.

People who have a TIA or a stroke are also more at risk of having a subsequent stroke.  Secondary prevention measures are, therefore vital.