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Stroke symptoms

4-minute read

If you suspect that you or someone else is having a stroke, call triple zero (000) immediately and ask for an ambulance.

Even if the symptoms of a stroke disappear while you are waiting for the ambulance to arrive, you or the person having the stroke should still go to hospital for an assessment. If the symptoms disappear, it may mean you have had a transient ischaemic attack (TIA) but you could be at risk of having a full stroke at a later stage.

After an initial assessment, you may need to be admitted to hospital to receive a more in-depth assessment and, if necessary, begin receiving specialist treatment.

Recognising the symptoms of a stroke, using 'FAST'

The signs and symptoms of a stroke vary from person to person but usually begin suddenly. Since different parts of the brain control different parts of the body, your symptoms will depend upon the part of your brain affected and the extent of any damage.

The main stroke symptoms can be remembered with the word 'FAST': Face-Arms-Speech-Time.

  • Face — the face may have dropped on one side, the person may not be able to smile or their mouth or eye may have drooped.
  • Arms — the person may not be able to lift one or both arms and keep them there because of arm weakness or numbness.
  • Speech — their speech may be slurred or garbled, or the person may not be able to talk at all despite appearing to be awake.
  • Time — it is time to call triple zero (000) immediately if you see any of these signs or symptoms.

It is important for everyone to be aware of these signs and symptoms. If you live with or care for somebody in a high-risk group, such as someone who is elderly or who has diabetes or high blood pressure, being aware of the symptoms is even more important.

The symptoms described in the FAST test will identify about 9 out of 10 strokes.

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Other signs and symptoms may include:

  • paralysis, numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg, especially in one side of the body - try lifting both arms over the head at the same time; if one falls down, it could be a sign of a stroke
  • sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes, or seeing double
  • dizziness or losing balance, or an unexplained fall
  • communication problems, difficulty talking and understanding what others are saying
  • slurred speech
  • problems with walking, balance and co-ordination
  • a sudden, severe headache, unlike any the person has had before, especially if associated with neck stiffness
  • difficulty swallowing
  • fainting (in severe cases)

'Mini-stroke' or transient ischaemic attack (TIA)

The symptoms of a transient ischaemic attack (TIA) are the same as for a stroke and last from between a few minutes to a few hours. They then disappear completely. However, never ignore a TIA because it is a serious warning sign that there is a problem with the blood supply to your brain.

There is a greater risk of having a full stroke within the 4 weeks following a TIA. If you have had a TIA, you should contact your doctor or local hospital as soon as possible.

Not sure what to do next?

If you are still concerned about your stroke symptoms, check with healthdirect's online Symptom Checker for advice on when to seek medical attention.

The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self-care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2019

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