A stroke occurs when there is a sudden interruption to the blood supply in the brain. In the United States, stroke is the leading cause of disability – with someone having a stroke every 40 seconds.

Most strokes are preventable, and many are treatable. But you must act fast by calling 911 to get immediate medical care.

Stroke treatments are most effective when they’re given as soon as possible after symptom onset – early treatment can improve the chances of survival and help prevent long-term disability.

That’s why it’s so important to know the early warning signs of a stroke and the steps you should take to get the right care as soon as possible.

Symptoms of a stroke

Stroke symptoms typically come on suddenly. And while not everyone will experience the exact same symptoms, some of the most common early signs of a stroke are:

  • Numbness, weakness or paralysis of the face, arm or leg – particularly on one side of the body, including face drooping and trouble lifting an arm or leg
  • Confusion, trouble speaking like slurred speech or inability to find the right words, or difficulty understanding what others are saying
  • Trouble seeing in one or both eyes such as seeing double, blurry vision or blackened vision
  • Difficulty walking, dizziness, loss of balance or lack of coordination
  • Severe headache with no known cause, which could be accompanied by vomiting, dizziness or an altered state of consciousness

Pre-stroke symptoms

Pre-stroke or mini stroke are common terms that refer to a transient ischemic attack (TIA). Unlike a regular stroke, mini strokes only last for a few minutes and don’t usually cause permanent damage. Even though they last for different amounts of time, mini strokes and strokes have the same early warning signs and symptoms. If you suspect you may be experiencing pre-stroke symptoms, it’s important to see a doctor right away. One in three people who experience pre-stroke symptoms will eventually have a stroke.

Stroke signs in women vs. men

Signs of stroke in men and women are generally similar. But stroke symptoms in women can be more subtle, which means they may be more easily missed or dismissed.

The risk of stroke is also higher among women due to several individual factors such as pregnancy, the use of birth control pills or hormone replacement therapy, higher rates of migraine with aura, and irregular heartbeat, which is one of the types of heart disease.

In addition to the common stroke warning signs, women may also experience the following stroke symptoms:

  • General weakness or fatigue
  • Headache, disorientation, confusion or memory issues
  • Nausea or vomiting

Silent strokes

Strokes with no noticeable symptoms are called silent strokes. Silent strokes can happen when the area of damage is small and occurs in a part of the brain that doesn’t control vital functions like speech or movement.

How to tell if someone is having a stroke: B.E.F.A.S.T.

A helpful way to remember the signs of a stroke is by using the acronym B.E.F.A.S.T.

B – Balance problems

Is the person having trouble staying coordinated or balanced? Do they feel dizzy? Are they stumbling as they walk?

E – Eyesight issues

Does the person have blurry or blackened vision? Are they seeing double or having other eyesight problems?

F – Face drooping

Is one side of the face drooping or numb? Ask the person to smile and look to see if one side of their mouth is drooping.

A – Arm weakness

Is one arm weak or numb? Can the person raise both arms at the same time? If both arms are raised, does one slouch or sag below the other? Strokes often affect one side of the body, so arm weakness – or leg weakness – can be an important sign to watch for.

S – Speech difficulty

Is speech slurred or hard to understand? Is the person confused? Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase and listen for anything strange.

T - Terrible headache

Does the person have a severe headache that came on suddenly, within seconds? Would they describe the headache as the worst they’ve had in their life?

If someone is experiencing one or more of these stroke symptoms, it's time to call 911. Getting the right care as quickly as possible is important for getting treatments that can help reverse stroke damage.

Stroke risk factors

Anyone can have a stroke, but the chances of having one are higher for those with certain risk factors. Some stroke risk factors can be controlled and treated, while others can’t.

Stroke risk factors that can be controlled and managed:

  • High blood pressure or cholesterol
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • History of mini strokes (transient ischemic attacks)
  • Obesity
  • Excessive alcohol or drug use

Stroke risk factors that can’t be changed:

  • Genetics: If you or your family have a history of strokes, your chance of having one is greater.
  • Race: African Americans have a higher risk of stroke than other races.
  • Age: Your chance of having a stroke more than doubles for each decade of life after 55.
  • Gender: Men have strokes more often, but women are more likely to die from a stroke.

Know your stroke care options

You can’t predict if a stroke will happen. But knowing where you can get the right stroke care when needed is one thing you can do.

With the help of our incredible team – which includes neurosurgeons, vascular neurologists, cardiologists, stroke nurses, rehabilitation specialists and many others – HealthPartners Neurology offers award-winning stroke care across our care system, including:

  • Regions Hospital Stroke Center – located in downtown St. Paul – is Minnesota’s first certified comprehensive stroke center. This means we’re recognized for the highest level of stroke care from the moment someone arrives in the emergency room, and throughout their hospital and rehabilitation stay – no matter how serious the stroke injury.
  • Methodist Hospital Stoke Center – located in St. Louis Park – is a nationally recognized stroke center offering outstanding, responsive emergency stroke treatment and rehabilitation in the western Twin Cities. The Park Nicollet Stroke INSPIRE program, which provides support and education to stroke and brain injury survivors and their families, is just one example of our range of support services.
  • Rehabilitation clinic locations across the Twin Cities metro and western Wisconsin – including our state-of-the-art Neuroscience Center in St. Paul – make it easy for you or your loved one to get exceptional rehabilitation and therapy services throughout the stroke recovery process. For example, our Regions Hospital stroke rehabilitation program is CARF certified, and we’re also dedicated to research. Through the HealthPartners Institute we’re working to advance treatment, care and systems, and that includes offering clinical trials.

Get the stroke care you need, when you need it

Any time you or a loved one is experiencing something out of the ordinary, or if there’s something bothering you, don’t delay getting care. The sooner you get the right care, the better the outcome will be – especially when it comes to a stroke.

If you’re the one experiencing possible stroke symptoms, don’t attempt to drive yourself to the hospital: call 911 or ask someone you’re with to call for you.

A stroke can be a frightening experience. But remember that we’re here for you, and quality stroke treatment and recovery options are never far away.