Warning Signs of Stroke

Anyone Can Have a Stroke: Do You Know What to Do?

A stroke is a "brain attack" that occurs when a blood vessel in your brain is clogged or ruptured. This interrupts the flow of blood and oxygen to your brain, and brain cells can start to die. Stroke can lead to death or long-term disability, such as partial paralysis or loss of memory, speech or other important abilities.

New treatments are available that can save lives or minimize the damage from a stroke. However, stroke victims must receive these treatments within 3 hours of the onset of stroke. And the sooner they are treated, the better their chances of full recovery. That's why it is important for everyone to know the warning signs and know what to do.

Know the Warning Signs

Smile, Reach, Speech:  Remember these simple words.

Stroke: Smile Icon Stroke: Reach Icon

Stroke: Speech Icon®2006 MidMichigan Health

Then, If you ever think someone is having a stroke, look for these signs:

Stroke: Crooked Smile IconCrooked Smile – During a stroke, one side of the face may not move as well as the other side. Ask the person to smile. If the smile is crooked or one side of the face droops, it may indicate a stroke.


Stroke: Uneven Reach IconUneven Reach – During a stroke, one side of the body may be weak or unable to move at all. Ask the person to hold both arms straight out for 10 seconds. If one arm drifts down or cannot be raised at all, it may indicate a stroke.


Stroke: Abnormal Speech IconAbnormal Speech – During a stroke, mental confusion or slurred speech is common. Ask the person to repeat a familiar phrase, such as "The early bird catches the worm." If words are slurred or mixed up, it may indicate a stroke.

Additional stroke warning signs include:

  • Sudden, unexplained severe headache or a change in the pattern of headaches
  • Sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm, leg or one side of the body
  • Difficulty understanding speech
  • Sudden dimness or loss of vision, particularly in one eye
  • Unexplained dizziness, unsteadiness or falls
  • Difficulty swallowing 
  • Loss of consciousness for seconds or minutes

Don't Wait. Don't Drive. Dial 911.

If any of the three main warning signs of stroke – Smile, Reach, Speech – is abnormal, there is a 72 percent chance the person is having a stroke1. If you notice these or any of the other signs of stroke, dial 911 immediately.

Nobody wants to believe it's a stroke. So they wait for the symptoms to go away. And sometimes the symptoms do disappear. But even brief, temporary interruptions in blood flow, known as TIA's or "mini-strokes" could lead to a major stroke and should be treated immediately.

If you suspect someone is having a stroke, don't wait, and don't try to drive them to the emergency room yourself. Studies show patients get treated an average of thirty minutes faster when they arrive by ambulance than by private car2. When you dial 911, paramedics can start testing and treatment the minute they arrive, saving critical time once you reach the hospital.

Learn More About Stroke

1. Kothari R., et al. Acad Emerg Med. 1997; 4:986-990.
2 Canto, et. al, “Use of Emergency Medical Services in Acute Myocardial Infarction and Subsequent Quality of Care.” Circulation, 2002, Vol. 106, p. 3018.

Smile, Reach, Speech icons and slogan ©2006 MidMichigan Health

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