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The New Jersey Comprehensive Stroke Center at University Hospital

The Patient's Role in Diagnosis

The process of responding to stroke begins with the person experiencing symptoms and/or those around him or her. By knowing the warning signs and acting quickly, it is possible to help prevent or reduce disabling complications and perhaps even save a life. Currently, only about half of all strokes are recognized by witnesses or the patient when they occur.

Recognize Warning Signs - Call 911!

Someone who is experiencing a stroke or mini-stroke (transient ischemic attack or TIA) usually will show signs that something is wrong. Symptoms range from confusion and uncoordinated movement to impaired speech and paralysis.

In the case of a TIA, the signs may disappear within an hour. Nonetheless, it must be treated as an emergency. A prompt evaluation (within 60 minutes) is necessary to identify the cause and determine appropriate therapy. About one-third of those who have a TIA will have an acute stroke some time in the future. Many strokes can be prevented by heeding the TIA warning signs and promptly treating underlying risk factors.

Stroke Warning Signs

Stroke should be suspected when any of the following symptoms occur. Even if they are temporary — lasting less than an hour — they must be taken very seriously.

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding.
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination.
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause.

Despite the severe damage and death associated with stroke, only 26 percent of the general public can name one or more of its warning signs, according to the American Heart Association.

Action to Take

If you or someone with you has one or more stroke symptoms, you must act quickly:

  • Check the time that the symptom(s) started. This can be extremely important in determining treatment if stroke is confirmed.
  • Immediately call 911 or the emergency medical services (EMS) telephone number so an ambulance (ideally with advanced life support) can be dispatched promptly.
  • If you cannot access EMS, have someone drive you (if you are suffering the symptoms) or drive the possible stroke victim to the nearest hospital emergency room.
  • Don’t ignore signs. Not all the warning signs occur in every stroke. If you experience even one, do not ignore it. Even if the symptoms are temporary, take action to get emergency assistance.
  • Don’t take “no” for an answer. If you are with someone who may be having stroke symptoms, expect the person to protest. Denial is common. Insist on taking prompt action.