Stroke is a medical emergency. The quicker people receive treatment, the better their chance of survival and recovery, so it's vital to know how to spot the signs of a stroke in yourself or someone else.
The FAST test is a very effective way to spot the three most common symptoms of stroke or TIA (transient ischaemic attack or mini-stroke). But there are other signs that you should also take seriously, including sudden weakness or numbness, vision problems, or a severe headache.
When Tabitha, 50, had a stroke in August 2022, the symptoms were very subtle. 'My vision suddenly whited out,' says Tabitha. 'Then there was a sparkling white noise in my peripheral vision that made me feel slightly vertiginous and sick. There was no pain. I assumed it was a perimenopausal migraine.'
But a week later, Tabitha still had a headache and had started noticing other symptoms too. 'Typing had become very difficult. I found it almost impossible to hit the right keys on my phone.
'And there were other weird things happening. I suddenly couldn't work out how the strap of my cross-body bag was supposed to loop round my neck and where my arm was supposed to go. I put my jeans on backwards and couldn't work out what I was doing wrong.
'I could do things - there was nothing wrong with my strength - but I couldn't work out how to do them.'
Worried, Tabitha went to see her GP, who checked her for signs of a stroke. Everything seemed normal, apart from her coordination, so the GP recommended that she go to the hospital as a precaution. 'The A&E doctor ran through the same tests as my GP, but couldn't see any neurological abnormalities, so I went home,' says Tabitha.
Tabitha's symptoms continued to get worse, so she went back to hospital. This time she brought a sample of her typing as evidence of what was happening to her. 'I showed it to the nurse. She said, 'You need a brain scan now.''
A CT scan revealed Tabitha had had a stroke. 'I was in total shock. I had no idea that the odd, vague symptoms I was experiencing were symptoms of a stroke. I thought they happened to much older people.
'My symptoms were subtle, but the stroke itself was not small. It has been a long process towards accepting my new reality. That's an emotional journey as much as a physical one: accepting that you are disabled forces you to confront all kinds of hidden assumptions about how you and the world work.
'I returned to work as a teacher in January 2023, five months after the stroke. It was much harder than I thought it would be, but my school has been excellent at adapting my timetable.
'As a woman, I have spent all my life being trained to ignore pain and brain fog and discomfort, to put it all down to hormones and difficult female bodies. But headaches that last for days need medical attention.
'The FAST test is a useful tool but it's important to recognise other indicators of stroke as not all neurological symptoms are obvious.'
Find out more
Learn about the FAST test and other symptoms of stroke.
Stroke News magazine
This article is featured in the spring 2023 edition of our magazine, Stroke News. Subscribe to our future editions available in print, on audio CD, or via email.