The event: a stroke or Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA)

Common symptoms of stroke

The symptoms of a stroke vary depending primarily on the location of the stroke in the brain. Common symptoms include:

  • physical problems in one side of the body (weakness, paralysis or numbness which is commonly described as "pins and needles");
  • drooping in one side of the face;
  • loss of vision in one or both eyes;
  • speech problems, including being unable to understand what is being said, being unable to speak or say the right words and slurring of speech;
  • Confusion and severe headache
Other less common symptoms include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, pain and shortness of breath.

The most common symptoms spoken about were numbness and weakness on one side of the body (arms, leg or face). 

The numbness or weakness resulted in people being unable to pick up or hold things. One man who was working as a builder found he could not use his tools. Another said his right arm seemed to have a mind of its own. Some described the numbness as similar to that experienced when the circulation has been cut off by sitting or lying awkwardly and only became concerned when it did not pass or they had other symptoms. 

A few people had a drop in one side of their face which they or somebody else noticed. 

Some people's balance was affected by weakness on one side of their body causing them to fall over or slump to one side when sitting. One man without weakness in one side of his body felt dizzy and sick and had coordination problems. It was later discovered that he had a rarer location of stroke which affected the balance area of his brain. 

Weakness in the legs made walking difficult for some people because the leg was dragging. Sometimes the leg had given way causing a fall. A few said that they were completely paralysed and could not move.

Speech is commonly affected by stroke. Some people noticed that their speech had become slurred and clumsy, this was usually because of weakness in the facial muscles. Some people found that their speech recovered rapidly.

A few people either could not talk at all or struggled to get the words out. One woman, who now has ongoing problems with finding the words she wants and understanding the speech of others (aphasia), thought she was speaking normally but heard strange sounds coming from her mouth.

Bodily functions were sometimes affected by the stroke. Weakness in the facial muscles occasionally caused people to dribble and one woman had found it difficult to swallow her breakfast. A few people told us that they had lost control of their bladder or bowel and this is actually quite common.

Visual symptoms of a stroke included double vision or only seeing half of a face, television screen or page of writing. If visual symptoms occurred in isolation people often ignored them or decided that they were having a migraine. 

Stroke can cause confusion and strange emotional feelings in the early stages. A woman whose mother had a stroke said her mum heard music and had seen someone knocking at the window when there was no one there. A few people felt very emotional and started to cry - a man was soon reassured by the doctor that this was a normal part of stroke.

Pain was not usually experienced in the initial stages of stroke, but did occur in some cases (see Malcolm's clip below).

Stroke may be accompanied by a headache. Sub-arachnoid haemorrhage (bleeding from a weak artery over the surface of the brain) is usually noticed by a sudden (instantaneous) severe headache. One woman who had a haemorrhage had a blinding headache; another woman had a haemorrhage without any headache. A third woman had two sub arachnoid haemorrhages both were accompanied by a severe headache she described as like being hit on the back of the head with a sledge hammer.

Some people had no memory of the stroke either because they lost consciousness or because their stroke happened during an operation, or because they were asleep when it occurred.

In some cases, individuals thought that their symptoms were related to a pre-existing health condition and did not realise that they were actually having a stroke.

Some people experienced a stroke after one or more Transient Ischaemic Attacks (TIA/minor strokes).

A TIA occurs when there is a temporary loss of flow of blood to the brain. The symptoms of a TIA are similar to that of a stroke but are usually milder and pass within hours. As a result, a TIA can be referred to as a 'minor stroke'.

People described the experiences of temporary loss of vision, limb weakness, and slurred speech. Some had realised that there was something wrong and had sought help from the doctor particularly if their symptoms reoccurred. Others who had gone on to have a stroke reflected back on an event which they thought might have been a TIA and sometimes wished they had gone to the doctor sooner. 

For more information on TIA's please refer to the our TIA section.

When and where did stroke or TIA occur?

People's strokes or TIAs most often came on at home and were not triggered by any specific event. In a couple of cases the stroke occurred in hospital following surgery or treatment for another condition.

Symptoms usually came on rapidly although a few people we spoke to had symptoms over a number of days. One woman had visual symptoms over a few days only went to her doctor after she started struggling to talk to people at a party.

The majority of people were up and about when the stroke happened. A few people however woke in the night or early morning and on getting up had some symptoms usually weakness in one side of the body or being unable to move.

Last reviewed June 2017.
Last updated
June 2017.


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