Recognize the 5 Most Common Stroke Symptoms

According to one study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 93% of people recognized weakness on one side of their body as a sign of having a stroke. However, only 38% of people knew all the symptoms they were experiencing were stroke related. Five common symptoms occur in 95% of all strokes. Do you know what they are?

Key takeaways:
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    Ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes are the two major types — with similar symptoms.
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    Most strokes are preventable with lifestyle changes and medications to treat diseases that increase stroke risk.
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    BE FAST is an acronym created to help people recognize stroke symptoms to get treatment faster.

What is a stroke?

A stroke is sometimes called a "brain attack." It happens when a clot gets stuck in a vessel of the brain or one of the blood vessels bursts.

  • A stroke from a blocked vessel in the brain is called an ischemic stroke.
  • A stroke that occurs when a blood vessel breaks in the brain is called a hemorrhagic stroke.

Ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes are the two major types of strokes. Ischemic strokes account for 87% of cases, while the remaining 13% are hemorrhagic.

Both types of strokes have similar symptoms, even though hemorrhagic strokes are often deadlier and come on quicker than ischemic strokes.

Both ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes can cause severe brain damage, leading to permanent disabilities. During a stroke, because of a lack of blood flow, the brain's tissues do not receive enough nutrients to function.

The brain’s nutrient deprivation damages sections of the brain or those areas simply die. Unfortunately, the brain does not regrow or regenerate damaged brain cells or brain tissues. Because of this, physical or mental disabilities develop after a stroke.

Are you at risk of having a stroke?

There are many stroke risk factors to be aware of. Doctors consider some risks modifiable, meaning there are things you can do to lessen the risk, while other risks are non-modifiable. Researchers believe that 80% of strokes are preventable with healthy habits and medication, if necessary.

Modifiable risk factors include

High blood pressure can strain the vessels in the brain, causing them to narrow or rupture. Medication and diet changes can help control blood pressure.

Smoking doubles stroke risk by increasing blood pressure and reducing oxygen in the brain.

High cholesterol - cholesterol leaves plaque deposits on vessels narrowing the amount of blood that can pass through arteries. It can also cause blockages by narrowing entirely or having a piece break off and migrate to another area. Medication and diet changes can help control cholesterol.

Illegal drug use can cause the narrowing of vessels and raise blood pressure, increasing stroke risk.

Physical inactivity often leads to poor circulation, where fat deposits block blood vessels, leading to a stroke.

Non-modifiable risk factors include

Family history - immediate family members who have had strokes put you at greater risk.

Gender - people born as males are at higher risk of having a stroke than those born as females.

Race - African Americans and Hispanics are at a higher risk of stroke compared to other ethnicities.

Age - people 55 years and older are at a higher risk of stroke than younger people.

What are the common stroke symptoms?

Five common stroke symptoms occur in strokes. Symptoms may be permanent but can be reversed if treated promptly. If you or someone you know is showing signs of a stroke, call for help immediately.

Acting quickly is important for treating strokes. Some lifesaving medications can only be given within a certain amount of time after the stroke has started. Therefore, note the time, so you know when the symptoms began.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), 95% of ischemic strokes have these five symptoms:

  • Loss of balance.
  • Changes in vision.
  • Facial drooping.
  • Weakness in one arm.
  • Slurred speech.

Many people miss the signs of a stroke and, therefore, symptoms go untreated. The National Stroke Association (NSA) created an acronym to help people remember stroke symptoms.

The acronym is "BE FAST."

B - Balance
E - Eyes

F - Face
A - Arm weakness
S - Speech
T - Time


"BE FAST" isn't just an acronym for remembering stroke symptoms. It’s also a reminder to act quickly because getting prompt treatment is important. Time isn't a symptom, but it is added to the acronym to help people remember that "Time saves brain tissue!"

As soon as you see any stroke symptoms, call 911 as quickly as possible! This can make a difference in saving someone's life and helping to prevent the development of permanent disabilities. Doctor work within a specific timeframe for administering lifesaving drugs.

Less common symptoms

Some people experience strokes differently depending on what part of the brain is being affected and how big the stroke is.

Other symptoms include:

  • Nausea.
  • Dizziness.
  • Severe headache.
  • Confusion or memory loss.
  • Incontinence.
  • Hemiparalysis, or hemiparesis (the inability to move one side of the body).

What is a mini-stroke?

Stroke symptoms that disappear within a few minutes or under 24 hours are called a transient ischemic attack (TIA), commonly referred to as a mini-stroke. A mini-stroke is often a warning sign of an impending larger stroke.

Even though symptoms go away quickly, a mini-stroke is still a medical emergency. The temporary symptoms of a TIA can include any of the five common stroke symptoms and other less common symptoms.

A TIA is caused by a blockage or clot in the brain, just like an ischemic stroke. During a TIA, the blockage is brief and often only temporarily restricts blood flow. The cause usually corrects itself but puts you at risk of having another or a larger stroke.

As soon as these symptoms appear, you should immediately call 911. The "T" in B.E. F.A.S.T. stands for “time” and is also important during a TIA. A real stroke can occur hours or days after a TIA, so prompt treatment can help prevent it!

What to do if you think you are having a stroke?

Remember, if you or someone you know is having a stroke, "BE FAST", dial 911, and get to a hospital right away. The term "time is brain tissue" refers to the fact that injury caused by a stroke can become permanent or cause death. You don't have to have all five symptoms; experiencing even only one symptom is enough of a reason to call for help.

The hospital has a time frame in which they can provide clot-busting medication to stop a stroke. The medication works best within the first few hours from the onset of symptoms. Furthermore, certain procedures can only be performed within a specific time window.

Sometimes ischemic strokes are treated by removing the clot in the brain directly. This is done by inserting a small catheter that snakes up through an artery in the groin to the affected brain area. If that is not possible, surgery may be required to remove the clot.

If a stroke is caused by a ruptured blood vessel, it cannot be treated with the same medications as an ischemic stroke. Hemorrhagic strokes that don't stop bleeding on their own may require intervention.

Similar to ischemic strokes, during a hemorrhagic stroke, inserting a catheter into an artery in the groin can deliver medications to help stop the bleeding. In some cases, hemorrhagic strokes need surgery to relieve pressure in the skull caused by the bleeding.


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