A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is limited, causing damage to brain cells. Early warning signs occur suddenly and can include dizziness, confusion, issues with speech, and paralysis.

Stroke is the fifth most common cause of death and a leading cause of long-term disability in the United States. It occurs when a blood vessel in the brain becomes clogged or bursts, causing a decrease in blood flow to the brain.

When the brain does not get blood, the brain cells can begin to die quickly. This leads to a sudden onset of symptoms, such as slurred speech, confusion, and weakness or numbness in the face or body, particularly on one side.

A person should call 911 immediately if someone they are with experiences any symptoms of stroke — especially if they occur suddenly.

This article discusses when stroke symptoms may begin, what they are, and ways to help prevent stroke.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), American Stroke Association (ASA), and other healthcare experts note that the characteristic that all early signs and symptoms of stroke have in common is sudden onset. This is because brain cells start to die quickly within minutes of blood loss, causing symptoms to occur rapidly.

In other words, symptoms will not slowly develop over time. Instead, they will appear quickly, often seemingly out of nowhere.

However, some people may experience a transient ischemic attack (TIA) — sometimes known as a ministroke — ahead of a stroke. TIA causes symptoms similar to a stroke and is also a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.

Unlike a stroke, a TIA does not cause permanent damage. However, it can act as an early warning sign of an impending stroke. According to the ASA, around one-third of people who experience a TIA go on to experience a more severe stroke within 1 year. In addition, a TIA occurs before about 15% of all strokes.

People who have already experienced a stroke also have a higher risk of experiencing another stroke.

Therefore, while stroke symptoms occur suddenly, a person may consider a TIA or previous stroke as early warning signs of future stroke.

Learn about the warning signs of stroke in males.

Many organizations, such as the ASA and the CDC, encourage people to use the FAST acronym to remember the symptoms of stroke, which occur suddenly. FAST stands for:

  • Face drooping: One side of a person’s face may droop, and if someone asks them to smile, they may not be able to.
  • Arm weakness: A person may not be able to raise both arms — one of their arms may drift downward when they try.
  • Speech difficulty: A person’s speech may become slurred or unusual.
  • Time to call 911: Someone should call 911 immediately if they notice any of the symptoms above in themselves or others.

Signs of a stroke can include sudden onset of one or more of the following symptoms:

  • numbness or weakness in the face, leg, or arm on one side
  • an unusually severe headache
  • slurred speech
  • nausea or vomiting
  • difficulty seeing or loss of vision
  • loss of coordination, balance, or ability to walk
  • disorientation and confusion
  • memory loss
  • dizziness
  • difficulty understanding what others are saying

A fast response can help improve a person’s outcome and recovery. As soon as someone recognizes the signs of a stroke, they should call 911.

A person can take some measures to help reduce their risk of experiencing a stroke, either for the first time or recurring stroke. About 1 in 4 people will have a second stroke within 5 years of their first.

Some tips to help reduce the risk of a stroke include:

Certain underlying conditions put a person at higher risk of having a stroke. Some of these conditions include:

A person should speak with a doctor about how to monitor and treat these conditions to help reduce their risk of stroke.

Early warning signs and symptoms of stroke come on suddenly. They can include dizziness, confusion, issues with speech, and paralysis on one side of the body or face. A stroke is a medical emergency, and a person should call 911 immediately if they think someone is experiencing a stroke.

A person who has had a TIA or another stroke should stay alert for signs of another since many people have repeat strokes.

There are some ways a person can help reduce their chances of having a stroke. These include making any necessary lifestyle changes, such as following a healthy diet and exercising alongside treating any underlying health conditions, such as atrial fibrillation. A healthcare professional can offer someone further information about how to reduce their risk of stroke.