Like a heart attack, a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) is an emergency that requires immediate medical attention. Getting to the hospital as soon as symptoms start is essential; prompt diagnosis and treatment are key to improving the outcome.

Responding quickly to a TIA also is crucial—even if symptoms subside—since about one- third of TIAs go on to become full-blown strokes. Listed below are the possible symptoms of a stroke or TIA, as well as the appropriate actions to take.

Possible symptoms of a stroke or TIA

  • Sudden weakness or numbness in the face, arm or leg on one side of the body
  • Sudden loss, blurring or dimness of vision
  • Mental confusion, loss of memory or sudden loss of consciousness
  • Slurred speech, loss of speech, or problems understanding other people
  • A sudden, severe headache with no apparent cause
  • Unexplained dizziness, drowsiness, incoordination or falls
  • Nausea and vomiting, especially when accompanied by any of the above symptoms

Actions to take

  • Stay calm, but don’t downplay any of the symptoms or hesitate to take prompt action.
  • Call or have someone call an ambulance. (Dial 911 in most parts of the United States.) Be sure to give your name, telephone number and exact whereabouts.
  • While waiting for the ambulance, the person having the stroke symptoms should be made as comfortable as possible and should not eat or drink anything other than water.
  • If an ambulance cannot arrive within 20 to 30 minutes, have a family member, neighbor or someone else drive the stroke patient to the hospital. Under no circumstances should the person experiencing the stroke symptoms drive.
  • Notify the stroke patient's doctor. The doctor can provide the hospital with the patient's medical history, which may be important for determining the best treatment.
  • At the hospital, be sure to list any medical conditions the stroke patient has (such as high blood pressure or diabetes), any allergies (particularly those to medications) and any medications the patient is currently taking, including over-the-counter remedies, vitamins and dietary supplements.

Publication Review By: Lawrence Appel, M.D., and Rafael H. Llinas, M.D.

Published: 16 Jul 2013

Last Modified: 16 Jul 2013