Because stroke is usually not painful, patients may ignore the signs/symptoms and not seek medical attention, in the hope that they will improve. Acute stroke or TIA should be treated as a medical emergency and should be evaluated as soon as possible.

Signs and symptoms

The common signs and symptoms of a stroke include:

Sudden weakness or numbness in face, arm or leg (most often on one side of the body)

Sudden loss of speech, difficulty speaking or understanding speech

Sudden confusion

Sudden loss of vision

Sudden severe, unusual headache

Sudden dizziness, loss of balance and trouble with walking

Act…F-A-S-T!

FAST is a simple way to remember the signs of a stroke and that it’s important to seek medical help urgently

  • F – Face drooping
  • A – Arm weakness
  • S – Speech difficulty
  • T – Time to call emergency medical services (graphic)

FACE: ask the person to show their teeth or smile and see if one side of the face droops or does not move as well as the other.

ARMS: ask the person to lift both arms up and keep them up and see if one arm does not move or drifts downward when extended.

SPEECH: ask the person to repeat a short sentence (e.g. “it is a sunny day in Cape Town”) and see if the person uses the correct words without slurring.

TIME: make a careful note of the time of onset of symptoms and call for help urgently if you spot any one of these signs.

Emergency numbers

People experiencing one or more of these symptoms should seek emergency medical care immediately. Medical help is most important within the first few hours after a stroke: remember that time lost is brain function lost. The faster you get the affected person to a hospital, the better their chances of survival and recovery - you could even save a life!

112 (if calling from a cellphone)

10177 (if calling from a landline)

Go to the closest stroke unit or hospital emergency department

Stroke units have correct procedures and specialised clot busting medication available to diagnose the type of stroke and dissolve blood clots that stop blood flow to the brain. If you can reach a hospital with a stroke unit within 3 hours of the start of the stroke, go straight to that hospital as quickly as possible.

Find a list of hospitals with specialized stroke units here.

If your life is in immediate danger rather go to the nearest emergency hospital department. If you live too far away from a stroke unit, go to the nearest emergency hospital department