A-Z

Stroke

The event: a stroke or Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA)

Common symptoms of stroke

The symptoms of a stroke vary depending primarily on the location of the stroke in the brain. Common symptoms include:

  • physical problems in one side of the body (weakness, paralysis or numbness which is commonly described as "pins and needles");
  • drooping in one side of the face;
  • loss of vision in one or both eyes;
  • speech problems, including being unable to understand what is being said, being unable to speak or say the right words and slurring of speech;
  • Confusion and severe headache
Other less common symptoms include dizziness, nausea, vomiting, pain and shortness of breath.

The most common symptoms spoken about were numbness and weakness on one side of the body (arms, leg or face). 

The numbness or weakness resulted in people being unable to pick up or hold things. One man who was working as a builder found he could not use his tools. Another said his right arm seemed to have a mind of its own. Some described the numbness as similar to that experienced when the circulation has been cut off by sitting or lying awkwardly and only became concerned when it did not pass or they had other symptoms. 

 

He was at work as a builder when he had his stroke and found he could not use his tools.

He was at work as a builder when he had his stroke and found he could not use his tools.

Age at interview: 52
Sex: Male
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I just didn't know. It was a very strange feeling because, and I kept trying to work my tools and they just wouldn't work and I couldn't understand what was going on because there wasn't any pain or. I couldn't think of what there was. But, as I say, I'd heard of strokes but never thinking what. But I can clearly remember getting down off the scaffolding and coming in, the ambulance putting us on the stretcher and they come in with the siren on and the lights going and what not. What will folk be thinking, you know, it's just on a building site coming in. Funny feeling.

 

He woke in the morning feeling like he had slept awkwardly on his leg but the feeling did not...

He woke in the morning feeling like he had slept awkwardly on his leg but the feeling did not...

Age at interview: 56
Sex: Male
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It was just an ordinary Thursday morning. I woke up, out of bed and my left leg felt as though it was numb, you know, I was lying the wrong way all night on it and I got up and I was, I got to the toilet, it was OK. I still had this numbness. Came down the stair, sat down on the couch, put the news on, as I do, and I seemed to be OK. When I went up to get clothes on and the, the numbness was still there, really bad this time, so I had to sit down and I knew something was going on then. Tried to get back up again and used my left arm and my left arm just gave way. 

Then I said, 'There's really something wrong.' I shouted on my wife. She came down and I told her all the symptoms. I knew myself. I had a good idea that I'd had a stroke. My wife phoned 999, right away got the ambulance, they came out in about 6, 7 minutes, they confirmed it was either TIA or a stroke and I went into hospital. My wife phoned my daughter and my son and they followed in the car. I was taken right away in the hospital and the doctors wanted to give me all the tests, you know, and it was more or less, as I thought it was, a stroke. The initial shock of it on myself was pretty bad. I never felt my life threatened. I never felt that. 

A few people had a drop in one side of their face which they or somebody else noticed. 

 

His partner realised he'd had a stroke because the left side of his face was drooping.

His partner realised he'd had a stroke because the left side of his face was drooping.

Age at interview: 66
Sex: Male
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Well, it was, I was lying in bed and my partner had gone down to make a cup of tea and when she came back up, she said, 'I think you've had a stroke'. She noticed that my left side of my face was drooping but I don't remember anything about it. There was no pain, no loss of consciousness, it was completely out of the blue to me. I didn't believe it and anyway she called for an ambulance and a helicopter arrived. We lived in a tiny village and having a helicopter come in at 9 o'clock on, on the morning and landing it at far end of the High Street [laughter] was really quite an event in a little place like this.

Some people's balance was affected by weakness on one side of their body causing them to fall over or slump to one side when sitting. One man without weakness in one side of his body felt dizzy and sick and had coordination problems. It was later discovered that he had a rarer location of stroke which affected the balance area of his brain. 

Weakness in the legs made walking difficult for some people because the leg was dragging. Sometimes the leg had given way causing a fall. A few said that they were completely paralysed and could not move.

 

Her daughter found her on the floor she was unable to move or speak and remembers very little...

Her daughter found her on the floor she was unable to move or speak and remembers very little...

Age at interview: 55
Sex: Female
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You were telling me there about when your daughter found you?

When sh.., from what I've been told she found me on the floor and I couldn't move at all on the left hand side, I couldn't speak, nothing. She panicked and she phoned her sister and the two of them phoned the ambulance. The next thing I remember is I woke up in the hospital.

Can you, have you got any memory of?

I could, I can vaguely remember her shouting in the background panicking' Feeling helpless, you know. 

Speech is commonly affected by stroke. Some people noticed that their speech had become slurred and clumsy, this was usually because of weakness in the facial muscles. Some people found that their speech recovered rapidly.

 

Jessica experienced her stroke while she was cleaning her car. When her neighbour tried to help...

Jessica experienced her stroke while she was cleaning her car. When her neighbour tried to help...

Age at interview: 23
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 21
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I was actually cleaning the car when it, I sort of first, well I was cleaning the car on the inside and I felt like my right arm. I went to open the door and my right arm was sort of like just like fallen and stuff. So I was like, “Oh.”
 
Were you driving, or was …?
 
No I was parked outside.
 
And so I went inside and I was feeling a bit sort of dizzy and a bit sort of, oh, a bit spaced out and things. So I was sitting at the table and then my next door neighbour asked me to move the car and so I sort of went, I was stood up and like my, my leg started to go a wee bit and I was just a bit sort of like wobbly and things. And I went outside and I fell sort of under the door, of the neighbour and then I was sort of, she was speaking to me but I couldn’t say anything. It was just a sort of like garbled message type thing. I could hear everything she was saying and I could sort of process it but it was just a bit sort of like garbled, my speaking.
 
It just came on all of a sudden. I was just cleaning my car and then all of a sudden my numb, my leg went numb and like my arm went numb. It just was cut off like, it just was, I could feel just like cut off from the shoulder.
 
It did. It was quite frightening. I think when I initially sort of collapsed and my neighbour’s daughter I had, I was crying and crying. And I think I was probably having a panic attack as well because I didn’t know what was going happening and of course I couldn’t speak.

 

The left side of her body went numb and she was unable to speak. Her speech recovered when she...

The left side of her body went numb and she was unable to speak. Her speech recovered when she...

Age at interview: 66
Sex: Female
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It was an ordinary Sunday afternoon. It was in May 1999 and we'd just had lunch and washed up and I felt absolutely normal. I did not have any symptoms of any kind whatsoever and the phone rang and I answered the phone and it was for my husband and so he came into the hall and he took the phone and I came back into the lounge and it just happened just in that second. The whole of my left side actually went just completely dead and so, and I didn't have any pain or anything. It just went absolutely dead. It was the most peculiar experience and I realised I hadn't had a heart attack because there was no pain, so I guessed the next thing was a stroke and so my husband was a bit confused so I, we got a piece of paper and a pencil and I wrote down, 'I think I've had a stroke' and so he called the ambulance and I was taken to hospital and they gave me some oxygen. They gave me some oxygen in the ambulance and my speech had gone completely as well as my, as well as all the feeling on my left side, my speech had gone but when I got in the ambulance and they gave me some oxygen, my speech started to come back and when I got to the hospital, I was able to speak just slightly slurred I think, I must have sounded very drunk in fact and I was in hospital for 2 weeks and they really didn't touch me at all.

A few people either could not talk at all or struggled to get the words out. One woman, who now has ongoing problems with finding the words she wants and understanding the speech of others (aphasia), thought she was speaking normally but heard strange sounds coming from her mouth.

 

When she had the stroke she was completely paralysed and when she tried to speak strange noises...

When she had the stroke she was completely paralysed and when she tried to speak strange noises...

Age at interview: 54
Sex: Female
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After I'd been off to the loo, I continued into my bed. I was waiting and then suddenly the whole thing horrific. I became upside down in the bed. I horrifically couldn't use any part of my whole body apart from one left eye and I couldn't speak. For a peculiar sort of way, I didn't feel concerned. I didn't remember everything very well but shortly after this time I knew that there were some people sat in front of me talking to me, concerning to me and listening to me. They looked disturbed and I was talking a lot but I couldn't hear words from myself. They were very odd and strange noises coming from my mouth going, 'blah, blah, blah, blah' like this and I could hear it but I didn't know whether it was normal or not and then the next thing I knew I was off into the hospital and I couldn't do anything. Everything was just like this (swaying) and I know one of the several doctors in front of me. One was actually smiling because of all this blah blah blah sort of noise and anyway, I'm sure they weren't being hurting but it was most peculiar. 

Bodily functions were sometimes affected by the stroke. Weakness in the facial muscles occasionally caused people to dribble and one woman had found it difficult to swallow her breakfast. A few people told us that they had lost control of their bladder or bowel and this is actually quite common.

Visual symptoms of a stroke included double vision or only seeing half of a face, television screen or page of writing. If visual symptoms occurred in isolation people often ignored them or decided that they were having a migraine. 

Stroke can cause confusion and strange emotional feelings in the early stages. A woman whose mother had a stroke said her mum heard music and had seen someone knocking at the window when there was no one there. A few people felt very emotional and started to cry - a man was soon reassured by the doctor that this was a normal part of stroke.

Pain was not usually experienced in the initial stages of stroke, but did occur in some cases (see Malcolm's clip below).

Stroke may be accompanied by a headache. Sub-arachnoid haemorrhage (bleeding from a weak artery over the surface of the brain) is usually noticed by a sudden (instantaneous) severe headache. One woman who had a haemorrhage had a blinding headache; another woman had a haemorrhage without any headache. A third woman had two sub arachnoid haemorrhages both were accompanied by a severe headache she described as like being hit on the back of the head with a sledge hammer.

Some people had no memory of the stroke either because they lost consciousness or because their stroke happened during an operation, or because they were asleep when it occurred.

 

Jackie was found by her daughter in her kitchen where she had been lying (in and out of...

Jackie was found by her daughter in her kitchen where she had been lying (in and out of...

Age at interview: 61
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 53
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Oh and I went into the kitchen. And then I went in presumably to get the things from under the sink for cleaning. And I just didn’t know anything. And sometime after that was about twelve o’clock thereabouts. Sometime after that my mobile phone rang and eventually I heard it. And I tried to get up from the floor and I couldn’t get up. And I don’t think I was properly awake. I think I was only slightly awake. And I didn’t know what was wrong and I thought, “Well my daughter‘s not here so I’ll have to wait until she comes back. And she wasn’t there because she’d gone to see her boyfriend on the Friday so she wouldn’t be back I knew until the next Sunday, the next day or possibly even the Monday. My, a younger daughter was in Borneo. Doing a cycle ride for another charity. So I just lay there. I didn’t, I mean I just shut my eyes and just drifted, drifted off. I came to again when I was dying to go to the loo. So eventually I don’t know how but somehow I took both of my trousers off. And then I put them... later on I put them on again when it was night time because I was cold. And I did, I didn’t know this until afterwards but I’d been sick a couple of times. And the next thing I knew was I could just, just hear, I didn’t see her but I could hear my daughter coming in. And she saw the hoover in the, in the hall and thought there must be something wrong. And she came into the kitchen and found me in the kitchen. And she phoned the ambulance. I once she come in, I knew I was safe so I didn’t you know, I just drifted off. I mean I was, I was still three quarters down but I drifted off. She obviously phoned her, my brother and sister-in-law but they were, they were on a ship. Had just left Madeira and I think it takes them three days to get, come home from Madeira. So she phoned her daughter who lives down in [name of city]. She said to phone her [tsk] I don’t, my nephew, her cousin. And he came, you know running over. She obviously got her boyfriend. And I don’t really remember anything until I was properly in bed. When she asked me a question and I thought I’d answered her perfectly and she didn’t understand a word I said. She told me that a month later. By this time, I’d been lying on the ground, on the floor in the kitchen for twenty-eight hours.

 

In some cases, individuals thought that their symptoms were related to a pre-existing health condition and did not realise that they were actually having a stroke.

 

Clare was at home working with her husband when her eyesight went blurry, She initially thought...

Clare was at home working with her husband when her eyesight went blurry, She initially thought...

Age at interview: 50
Sex: Female
Age at diagnosis: 46
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Well, there wasn’t really a background because the stroke took me totally unawares, I mean I was just working with my husband in the kitchen and everything, and - but I did notice that day my eyesight seemed to be quite blurry, but because I’m diabetic that can happen anyway. So I didn’t really take any notice. The snow was falling rapidly outside and it was about a foot deep by the evening, and so I don’t know if that was worrying me, because we used to send out food - we run a mail order business and I was just worried that with such heavy snow the food wouldn’t be able to get to where it had to get to, and it was my job to actually make sure people had got their food. And there were several people I’d rung who hadn’t answered because either they hadn’t been home or they’d given us a number which they only used when they were at home or whatever. So you know, I was quite stressed that day, I suppose, and then about 11 o’ clock at night I went to bed. And I also suffer from IBS [irritable bowel syndrome] which affects me about once a week, and unfortunately it affected me on this night, so I went to the loo, and everything’s happening, and then suddenly I got this pain in my left eye, like you would get if an insect had gone into your eye, if you - what I imagined it was like was if you were rushing down a hill on a bicycle and something went in your eye, sort of like that. So, and it was really painful, actually, I could hardly open my eye and my eye started watering - and because my right eye I can’t see a lot, at the time I couldn’t see a lot of, you know, I couldn’t see out of that much. It was sort of partially gone anyway, but that’s another story. And so basically I got this pain and so I thought, “Gosh, what’s happening to me?” So I got up and thought I’d better try to get to my bedroom which was up a step and just along the corridor, and I couldn’t get to the bedroom, in fact I got to the spare room and I collapsed on the bed. And I suddenly felt all my right-hand side just going, it just sort of went numb. And I thought, “Gosh, it’s my sugar. I’m having a really strange hypo”, but I’d never had it like this before - and I dont get hypo symptoms so I, that’s why I thought it might be my sugar. But my sugar was fine, it was seven, so I wasn’t worried about that. My husband was asleep downstairs so, you know, on the sofa in front of the TV, so he wasn’t much help, but I did shout to him that something was wrong, and eventually he came up and he said, ‘Oh it’s just your sugar.’ So he tested my sugar again, and it wasn’t that. And then he didn’t actually call the ambulance service, despite the fact I couldn’t stand up, I couldn’t do anything. And I then started feeling sick, and so he had to carry me into the bathroom because he said – well, I obviously couldn’t walk - and so he carried me into the bathroom, and gave me a bowl and put me on the loo and all the rest of it, and I started being sick. And he just basically didn’t call an ambulance, he rang a friend who’s a nurse and gave her all the symptoms [laughs] and everything and she said, ‘Well, it sounds like Clare’s having a stroke. I think you’d better ring the ambulance’.

 

 

Malcolm experienced pains in his chest and was sweating. He assumed that he was having an angina...

Malcolm experienced pains in his chest and was sweating. He assumed that he was having an angina...

Age at interview: 67
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 64
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Malcolm' It started actually on the 18th of November, 2007, which was a Sunday, which was a Sunday. I felt a little bit unwell, sweating and I couldn’t, I couldn’t move properly. But I do suffer from angina and we thought it was an angina attack. So we called an ambulance. And first on the scene was the the emergency paramedic in a car, who came in and examined me and said that there was something wrong. But he didn’t know exactly what. So then an ambulance came as well. So they put the ECG on me and did my reflexes, and my temperature. And they, they then blue lighted me to hospital. I went into hospital into A&E and they were examining me in A&E. They examined me in A&E, took some blood counts. And then I was admitted to the ... it’s like a ward where you go when you, when you actually go into hospital and then they decide to what department you will go to.
 
Malcolm' I knew I was having a… as far as I was concerned I thought I was having…
 
Wife' It’s angina.
 
Malcolm'..an angina attack. Because I was getting the pain in my chest.
 
Right, right.
 
Malcolm' And that’s when the emergency paramedic, you know they drive around in the cars. They, he, they called him out first. And while he was with me… the ambulance came then. And they just put me in the ambulance and blue lighted me to the hospital.

 

Some people experienced a stroke after one or more Transient Ischaemic Attacks (TIA/minor strokes).

A TIA occurs when there is a temporary loss of flow of blood to the brain. The symptoms of a TIA are similar to that of a stroke but are usually milder and pass within hours. As a result, a TIA can be referred to as a 'minor stroke'.

People described the experiences of temporary loss of vision, limb weakness, and slurred speech. Some had realised that there was something wrong and had sought help from the doctor particularly if their symptoms reoccurred. Others who had gone on to have a stroke reflected back on an event which they thought might have been a TIA and sometimes wished they had gone to the doctor sooner. 

 

He had frequent transient ischaemic attacks which caused temporary dizziness, hand weakness and...

He had frequent transient ischaemic attacks which caused temporary dizziness, hand weakness and...

Age at interview: 84
Sex: Male
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Well, it started in 2003 when I was 82 and it started with small ischemic attacks affecting my eyes and movement of my hand and small things made me feel a little bit dizzy, faint. So later on, I took normal things, aspirin, this, that and the other, later on it developed and got worse. For instance, I was driving along and I'd get a partial vision blank. If I happened to look at a person in the face, I could only see half of the face and reading, I could only see the first part of a word. That lasted, to start off, 5 minutes and then back to normal.

 

Realises that two events before her major stroke were probably transient ischaemic attacks and...

Realises that two events before her major stroke were probably transient ischaemic attacks and...

Age at interview: 44
Sex: Female
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You mentioned you think or they said that you'd maybe had 2 mini strokes before?

Yes.

Can you remember those two times?

Yes. Yes. I can remember exactly when they happened. One was about a fortnight before the main stroke and the other was about a month prior to that.

And what did they feel like?

Well, the first one was what I thought was a very bad migraine and again it was distorted vision, stars and flashing lights and jagged edges and very small field of vision and I put it down to a bad migraine and I'd been very, very achy, very exhausted for about 4 days and I thought I'd just had a viral infection and I went to bed for a couple of days and took paracetamol and slept and then within about 4 days I was absolutely fine. I felt very weak for a couple of weeks after that because I can remember I was teaching class and I hadn't got the energy that I'd had before. And then the second one, again, it started with what I thought was a migraine and, but no pain as such in my head, just all the distorted vision but no headache, just, just the distorted fields and I felt like I'd had about 3 bottles of gin. I can remember I was slurring my words and I remember my daughter saying, 'You, are you really tired?', we were sat watching a film and I just didn't feel well, feel well at all and I said, 'No, I don't feel too good, I'm going to go to bed' and she said, 'You were, you were slurring your words and you were dragging as you were going up the stairs' and again, I thought, 'Oh, I'm ill, I've come down with something'. And I, my shoulder, I woke and thought, ironically the same shoulder that, that's now affected from the stroke, I thought I'd done some damage to it during an exercise class and I'd pulled some muscles or ligaments and strained it because the next morning, it wouldn't move the same and it was, it felt very, very odd. No pain but very uncoordinated and I just took it very easy for a few weeks and then this main one came but obviously I had no idea about what the word stroke meant or even the fact that you could have mini strokes that were like little warning signs prior to it. I didn't listen to them. I wasn't aware of them because I knew nothing about stroke but had I gone to the doctor with those, then maybe the main, the major stroke wouldn't have happened, who knows? I wish I had gone now.

For more information on TIA's please refer to the our TIA section.

When and where did stroke or TIA occur?

People's strokes or TIAs most often came on at home and were not triggered by any specific event. In a couple of cases the stroke occurred in hospital following surgery or treatment for another condition.

 

Mr Singh had a stroke in hospital after being admitted for a heart attack. The stroke occurred...

Mr Singh had a stroke in hospital after being admitted for a heart attack. The stroke occurred...

Age at interview: 65
Sex: Male
Age at diagnosis: 58
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So when I started heavy breathing, breathing heavily my daughter realised that I’m having heart attack. So she immediately called ambulance. And the ambulance came here. The mistake that I did I tried to show myself brave and I said to the ambulance people, “No, I will walk down myself from up the stairs to down the stairs.” Any when I came down the stair then the breathing become very heavy. And in the ambulance my breathing was really, really heavy, so they informed the hospital that [name of hospital]. They immediately consultant and everybody was there. They, they, they saw my condition. They realised that my heart is pumping really heavily. My heart reading is really high. So they, they give some medicine to calm me down. But they realise that I’m going through heart attack.
 
And in the night I was in the hospital, in the hospital and during the night I don’t know what kind of medicine was given to me, whether to reduce to my blood pressure or to reduce my breathing but as a result, in the night, I had a stroke. My left side is gone, completely gone. Now it is slightly better but at that time it was very, very bad. I was not able even to turn in my bed, turn sideways in my bed.
 
So the next day condition was really bad. My doctor, my consultant told my relation that if I survive tonight then I will be there in the morning. If I don’t survive that is the end of the story. And afterwards when I was talking to my consultant I asked him how far I was away from my grave. And he said, “You were about six inches away from your grave, your condition was so serious, we had no hope that you would survive but you survived luckily. It was your will to survive and therefore you survived.” My, my will was because of the reason I wanted to live to see my daughter who is a dentist get married. So I want to live. And as a result of that will I survived.

Symptoms usually came on rapidly although a few people we spoke to had symptoms over a number of days. One woman had visual symptoms over a few days only went to her doctor after she started struggling to talk to people at a party.

 

Thought her problems with vision, speech and a drooped mouth were due to migraine or old age. But...

Thought her problems with vision, speech and a drooped mouth were due to migraine or old age. But...

Age at interview: 68
Sex: Female
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My stroke isn't an easy thing to actually describe because I don't know when it happened I thought I'd got a migraine and it must have been sometime in early January and I was working at a solicitor's office and I found that I'd got problems with my vision on the computer and looking at any papers or anything like that and I took Neurofen which usually gets rid of anything like that but it didn't and I went to the chemist and got migraine tablets and I must have been taking those for about 2 weeks and I gradually found that I was having problems with my speech. I would think of something that I wanted to say and I couldn't get the words out and if I did say something, I wasn't sure if I said the right thing and I still thought it was caused by migraine and which I hadn't actually had it before but the symptoms seemed to be fairly similar. Now, this went on until the 16th of January, which was a Sunday, and we were going up to my husband's son-in-law's 50th birthday, he was having a party and I went up there with my husband and I found people were asking me questions and I couldn't answer them and I just couldn't get the words out. So I sort of went and found myself a quiet corner out of everybody's way and my husband's daughter said, 'Are you alright?' and I said, 'I don't know. I've got this problem, you know, I can't get my words out, you know, I don't want to talk to people because I can't answer them properly' and she looked at me and said, 'You'd better do something about it' and I said, 'Yes', I said, 'Tomorrow when I go home, I'm going to go to the doctor, you know, it's gone far enough, you know, it's not getting any better and I've taken these migraine tablets which hasn't improved it, so tomorrow I'll make an appointment to go to the doctor'. Well, the party finished, we left quite early and I drove my husband home 70 miles down the motorway. 

The next morning I went into work as usual and I phoned and made an appointment for the doctor and I was prepared to see anyone who was available and got an appointment for half past 3 that day. So I left work about half past 2, went to the doctor's surgery, saw the doctor and explained about this migraine problem that I've got, I'm taking tablets and I couldn't get rid of it. So she did a few tests and she said, 'No', she said, 'It's not a migraine, you've had a stroke'. 

I had a problem with my vision and my speech and also I had, we've got a digital clock and for about 3 weeks, when I looked at it, the right hand figure was faded, it was peculiar and I thought it was all to do with this migraine that I thought I'd got and also my left eyelid was slightly dropped now I thought oh its with age, you know, one of those things that go with getting older but these were all apparently symptoms of a stroke and I hadn't picked it up, I hadn't realised.

The majority of people were up and about when the stroke happened. A few people however woke in the night or early morning and on getting up had some symptoms usually weakness in one side of the body or being unable to move.
 

Last reviewed June 2017.
Last updated
June 2017.

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