What are the warning signs of stroke?

An older woman is comforted by a younger woman.

A stroke is a medical emergency that occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted. When that happens, brain cells can be deprived of oxygen, potentially causing permanent damage. Learn more about stroke and types of stroke.

What are the warning signs of stroke?

If you’re concerned that you, or someone else, is having a stroke, call 000 immediately. While stroke presents differently from person to person, there are some common indicators represented by the stroke memory-prompt ‘FAST’:

  • Face – watch for facial drooping on one side, or an inability to smile
  • Arms – check for numbness on one side, or problems lifting one or both arms
  • Speech – listen for slurring, problems forming or understanding words, or a general sense of confusion
  • Time – act fast, to minimise damage.

While these are the most typical signs and symptoms of stroke, it’s also worth keeping an eye out for other potential indicators, including:

  • A sudden, and unusually devastating, headache
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Blurred vision or loss of sight
  • Complete paralysis along one side of the body
  • Balance and coordination issues
  • Dizziness An inability to swallow. An inability to swallow.

In 2020, 27,428 Australians experienced stroke for the first time in their lives, which equates to one stroke every 19 minutes. It’s, therefore, essential that we’re all equipped to recognise and respond rapidly to its symptoms. Learn how to help someone having a stroke.

What is the fastest way to check for a stroke?

A quick test to identify a stroke is to ask the person to smile, raise both arms or say a simple sentence. If any of these pose a problem, seek help by calling 000 as a matter of urgency.

On arrival at hospital, a physical examination and tests – potentially including a CT scan, MRI scan, blood tests, ECG, angiogram and/or ultrasound – will be used to check whether a stroke has occurred, what kind of stroke it is, and what treatment options are possible.

What are the five signs of a silent stroke?

Silent stroke is, as the name suggests, harder to identify – in fact it rarely reveals itself without an MRI or CT scan, where white spots or lesions will show the areas where your brain cells have stopped working.

Silent stroke gets its name from the fact that it damages parts of the brain that don’t control visible functions, like movement or speech, making it impossible to tell that a stroke has even occurred. If it does become apparent, it’s usually because of repeated episodes, which have resulted in a build-up of damage and the emergence of neurological symptoms.

The five signs of silent stroke, which can be mistaken for general signs of ageing, are:

  • Poor balance
  • Frequent falls
  • Problems with bladder control
  • Mood changes
  • Cognitive challenges.

Risk of stroke

Fleeting symptoms of stroke may indicate a mini-stroke – also called a Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA) – which can last from a few minutes up to a period of several hours, but should never be ignored.

The risk of stroke is highest in the first few hours and days after a TIA. Mini-strokes are often neglected because of how rapidly symptoms improve and even disappear. By seeking urgent medical assessment, the person may be able to minimise the likelihood of a further, more damaging episode.

Learn more about how to prevent stroke.

Getting support after stroke

If someone you know has experienced a stroke, they may need additional support at home. You can connect with independent support workers through Mable who can provide different support services, such as personal care, social support and domestic assistance, nursing care, support with being physically active and exercising, and much more, to support you to live independently in your home.


The Australian Stroke Foundation recommends the F.A.S.T. test to identify a potential stroke:

  1. Face: Check their face. Has their mouth drooped?
  2. Arms: Can they lift both arms?
  3. Speech: Is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?
  4. Time is critical. If you see any of these signs, call 000 straight away.

Pre-stroke is another name for a mini-stroke or a Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA). While it may not cause any lasting damage it, in many cases, foreshadows a future stroke, so assessment by a specialist is essential.

Mini-strokes or TIAs resemble a stroke, but with the effects lasting for a shorter time – usually from a few minutes to several hours. While they may not appear to cause lasting damage, they can act as a warning sign, flagging the potential for a more severe episode. Furthermore, even mini-strokes, if repeated, can cause significant damage to accumulate.

It’s possible to experience symptoms such as serious headache, numbness or tingling in the days before a significant stroke. In fact, research suggests that almost one out of every three ischemic stroke survivors suffered mini-strokes within the preceding seven days. Which means that TIAs are a warning sign that cannot be ignored.