Is it a headache or a stroke? Know the signs

To mark American Stroke Month, Erlanger Southeast Regional Stroke Center would like to help you recognize the common and not-so-common signs of a stroke.

Each year nearly 800,000 people experience a new or recurrent stroke. It’s the fifth leading cause of death and a leading cause of adult disability in the U.S.

But too often, the signs of a stroke can be hard to recognize. Common symptoms, like arm weakness, headache or dizziness can be easily ignored. Rather than call 911, many people wait for the symptoms to go away — only to realize later they suffered a mini stroke or that they could have prevented a major one.

Why it’s important to know the signs

According to Dr. Thomas Devlin, Co-Director of Erlanger Southeast Regional Stroke Center, “If you even think it’s a stroke, it’s time to act fast. A few minutes can mean the difference between a full recovery and severe disability — or even death.”

To help you recognize the many different signs of a potential stroke, the specialists at Erlanger have compiled this convenient list.

F.A.S.T. is a widely-accepted guide that can help you determine whether someone is
having a stroke:

  • F = Face drooping: Ask the person experiencing symptoms to smile. Is one side of their face drooping?
  • A = Arm Weakness: Tell the person to close their eyes and raise their arms above their head. Is the person unable to lift one or both arms?
  • S = Speech Problems: When the person speaks, is their speech slurred, or are they having issues speaking or understanding words?
  • T = Time to call 911: If the person is experiencing any of the above signs, call 911 immediately.

These symptoms are also often associated with a stroke:

  • Sudden dizziness
  • Difficulty walking, lack of coordination
  • Severe headache
  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg — particularly on one side
  • Blurred or double vision, lack of vision

These signals are not as common, but are indicative of certain types of strokes:

  • Sudden agitation, migraine headaches, indigestion or nausea — unique symptoms that women often present during a stroke
  • Quick, inquisitive behavior — typical of a stroke that occurs in the right side of the brain
  • Inability to move anything below one’s neck — indicative of a stroke that occurs in the brain stem.

While not a complete list of symptoms, these guidelines provide a helpful base of knowledge that could make a difference to you or someone you love. Help spread awareness by sharing this article and visit to learn more.

Erlanger is dedicated to helping prevent strokes through education, prevention and comprehensive treatment. Visit our website to learn how Erlanger can help you manage risk factors and get the care you need.