Early warning signs of stroke

Updated April 17, 2017

Learning to spot the early warnings signs of a stroke will maximise the chances of survival while limiting the long-term damage. Although stroke symptoms can vary depending on the affected areas of the brain, there are a number of early warning signs that are quite common.


One of the most common early warning signs of a stroke is a headache, sometimes severe, sometimes only mild. The type of stroke plays a big role in determining headache type and severity. Strokes resulting from blockage or partial blockage of a cerebral artery typically produce more generalised, moderate headaches that can vary in intensity. Strokes resulting from rupture of a cerebral artery typically produce severe, intense headaches that come on suddenly.


Dizziness is often an early warning sign, especially in strokes that occur in regions of the brain that influence balance and equilibrium. Typically, dizziness related to a stroke will occur with other symptoms, such as nausea and lightheadedness and sometimes speech disturbances. However, there are occasions when dizziness is the sole presenting symptom. Dizziness that occurs suddenly and with seemingly no cause should not be ignored.

Leg and Arm Numbness

Numbness radiating into either the arms or legs (or in some cases both) occurs in the vast majority of stroke cases, regardless of the severity of the stroke. Many areas of the brain are centres for the nerve pathways running into the arms and legs. Any unexplained numbness (and in some cases tingling) in the arms and legs could be an early warning sign of a stroke.

Slurred Speech

If a stroke affects the area of the brain that controls speech, slurred speech can result. Depending on the severity of a stroke, speech problems and slurring of speech can appear gradually, almost imperceptibly at times, and then progress to more obvious disturbances. In other cases, a stroke can cause immediate, severe slurring of speech and disruptions in speaking ability.


Mental fogginess, or confusion, can be an early warning sign of stroke. If a stroke affects the portions of the brain that control thinking or memory, confusion will usually result. If an individual with no other obvious physical symptoms is suddenly overcome with confusing, this is a red-flag warning for the possibility of a stroke.

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