What are the signs of a stroke?

Acting quickly is a key to recovery

stopwatch-strokeA stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain is blocked or bursts. Without oxygen from the blood, that part of the brain starts to die. The part of the body controlled by the damaged area of the brain then stops working properly.

According to Dr. Eric Adelman, assistant professor of neurology at the University of Michigan, brain damage can begin within minutes of experiencing a stroke, so it is important to know the symptoms of stroke and to seek immediate treatment.

Call 911 immediately if you suspect stroke

“If you or someone you know is having a stroke, the first thing to do is to call 911,” Dr. Adelman says. The longer a stroke goes untreated, the greater the potential for brain damage and disability. “If a stroke patient is given clot-busting medication, called tPA, within 4.5 hours, their chances for recovery increase.”

Although the majority of a stroke patient’s recovery happens within the first year, “With intense rehabilitation, a patient may continue to recover after the first year,” says Dr. Adelman. Younger individuals who suffer a stroke tend to have better recovery results.

Two types of stroke

There are two types of stroke:

• An ischemic (iss-KEE-mick) stroke develops when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel in the brain. The clot may form in the blood vessel or travel from somewhere else in the blood system. The majority of strokes are ischemic strokes, the most common type in older adults.

• A hemorrhagic (heh-muh-RAH-jick) stroke develops when an artery in the brain leaks or bursts. This causes bleeding inside the brain or near the surface of the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes are less common but more deadly than ischemic strokes.

Signs of a stroke

Common stroke symptoms experienced by both men and women include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, particularly on one side of the body
  • Sudden trouble speaking or understanding
  • Sudden trouble walking or difficulty with balance or coordination or dizziness
  • Sudden difficulty seeing or double vision
  • Sudden severe headache or neck pain

If you have any of these symptoms, call 911 or other emergency services immediately.

Time matters with a stroke: Watch the video

Watch the University of Michigan Health System video “Time Matters with a Stroke” to hear one stroke survivor’s story.


University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center Logo - blueThe University of Michigan Samuel and Jean Frankel Cardiovascular Center is the top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit the Heart and Vascular page on UofMHealth.org.