A person having symptoms of a stroke needs immediate emergency care, just as if he or she were having a heart attack. The sooner medical treatment begins, the fewer brain cells may be damaged.
The effects of a stroke may range from mild to severe and may be temporary or permanent. A stroke can affect vision, speech, behavior, the ability to think and the ability to move parts of the body. Sometimes it can cause a coma or death. The effects of a stroke depend on the specific brain cells that are damaged, how much of the brain is affected and how fast blood flow is restored to the affected area.
One or more mini-strokes (transient ischemic attacks or TIAs) may occur before a person has a full-blown stroke. Symptoms for both are similar. However, unlike stroke symptoms, TIA symptoms disappear within minutes (usually 10 to 20) up to 24 hours. A TIA is a warning signal that a stroke may soon occur, and the condition needs to be treated as an emergency.
There are two major types of strokes. Ischemic stroke is caused by a blocked or narrowed artery. Hemorrhagic stroke is caused by sudden bleeding from an artery.
General symptoms of a stroke include sudden onset of:
- Numbness, weakness or inability to move (paralysis) of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
- Trouble seeing in one or both eyes, such as dimness, blurring, double vision or loss of vision
- Confusion or trouble speaking
- Trouble walking, dizziness or loss of balance or coordination
- Severe headache with no known cause
Symptoms of a stroke may vary, depending on the type of stroke, as well as the location and degree of brain damage. If a stroke is caused by a large blood clot or bleeding, symptoms occur within seconds. When an artery that is already narrowed or blocked, stroke symptoms usually develop gradually within minutes to hours or, rarely, days. However, symptoms of a small stroke may be attributed to normal aging or confused with other conditions that cause similar symptoms.