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What Does a Stroke Feel Like? Symptoms and Survivor Stories

woman consoling husband with headache and worried about what a stroke feels like

Understanding what it feels like to have a stroke can help others find empathy and compassion for survivors. It can also help you understand how to identify a stroke and help someone get the emergency medical attention they need.

There is a popular saying in the stroke rehabilitation field that every stroke is different and therefore every recovery is different. This also applies to what a stroke feels like. Since every stroke is different, every person will experience different symptoms and sensations.

The best way to understand what it feels like to have a stroke is to understand how a stroke affects the body and listen to stories from other survivors that have experienced it first-hand. This article will explain it all.

Use the links below to jump straight to any section:

What Does a Stroke Feel Like?

A stroke occurs when the supply of blood in the brain is disrupted by either a clogged or burst artery. Brain cells begin to die when they are deprived of oxygen-rich blood, which makes a stroke a medical emergency. Swift treatment is necessary to restore blood flow in the brain, minimize brain damage, and save the person’s life.

During a stroke, individuals won’t necessarily be able to feel the disruption of blood flow. Instead, they may experience sensations or emotions associated with the symptoms of a stroke.

The symptoms of a stroke include (but are not limited to):

  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulties with comprehension
  • Facial drooping on one side of the face
  • Weakness or paralysis on one side of the body
  • Vision problems
  • Sudden, severe headache
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Vertigo
  • Sensation changes

Individuals may experience one or many of these symptoms during a stroke, which affects how the stroke may feel. For instance, some individuals may feel pain in their head due to a headache. Others may not feel any physical sensations but may struggle to speak, which can lead to emotions of panic and confusion.

To understand how a stroke can feel to different people, let’s look at some survivor stories.

Survivors Share What a Stroke Feels Like

Below, you’ll find two videos from different survivors sharing what it felt like during their stroke.

Jill Bolte Taylor is a neuroanatomist who had a stroke. During her stroke, she experienced several symptoms including headache, loss of consciousness, poor balance, and paralysis of her right side. Because of her background in neurology, she was able to quickly identify that she was having a stroke and call for help.

It was not easy for her to call for help though, which is why it’s important for everyone to educate themselves of the symptoms of a stroke and know when to call for help (which we discuss later in this article).

Jill’s TED Talk remains one of the most-watched talks of all time. She also authored a book called My Stroke of Insight which remains at the top of our list of the best books on stroke recovery.

In this second video, Jim shares what his stroke felt like. He explains feeling as if he woke up extremely tired in the middle of the night and was unable to process his thoughts or get words out. Moreover, everything felt like it was occurring in slow motion and he was unable to understand where his body was in space.

Does a Stroke Hurt?

Because a stroke is a medical emergency, some people wonder if a stroke hurts. It may come as a surprise, but for many people a stroke does not hurt.

Individuals who experience a severe headache during a stroke may feel pain. However, it is more common for individuals to experience a variety of emotions during a stroke.

For example, individuals may experience confusion or fear if they can no longer control their movements or speech. Some individuals may experience euphoria, like Jill Bolte Taylor, if their cognition is affected in a particular way. As we mentioned earlier, every stroke is different and therefore every stroke feels different, too.

Furthermore, if a stroke has severely affected the person’s cognition, they may not be able to comprehend what’s happening at all. This means the person may feel no physical sensations or emotions during a stroke, which can delay treatment.

This is why it’s critical to understand how to spot a stroke so that you can help others get the swift medical treatment necessary to save a life.

What Does a Mini-Stroke Feel Like?

Sometimes the symptoms of a stroke go away on their own within a few minutes or hours. This is a sign of a transient ischemic attack, also known as a mini-stroke, which is caused by a blood clot temporarily blocking an artery in the brain.

Mini-strokes share the same symptoms as major strokes, which means they can feel the same. However, the symptoms go away on their own — generally resolving within 24 hours. For instance, if a mini-stroke was accompanied by a headache, the head pain may go away soon after.

Although mini-strokes resolve on their own, they should be taken seriously. About a third of patients that fail to get treatment after a mini-stroke end up experiencing a major stroke within a year.

If you or a loved one experience a mini-stroke, it’s important to get medical attention. Your doctor can check on your health and help identify and manage any potential stroke risk factors.

When to Call an Ambulance

woman on stretcher being taken to emergency room for stroke symptoms

When a stroke occurs, it’s essential to think FAST. The acronym FAST refers to the most common signs of stroke. By remembering these signs, you can better identify when a stroke is occurring and seek emergency help for yourself or someone around you.

FAST stands for:

  • Facial drooping
  • Arm weakness
  • Slurred speech
  • Time to call for emergency help

The typical stroke does not cause pain. As a result, an individual experiencing a stroke may attempt to shrug it off and refuse help. If this happens, try to urge the individual to seek help anyway.

Stroke is one of the leading causes of death worldwide and a leading cause of long-term disability. Swift treatment can help minimize disability and save a life.

Even if the individual only shows one of these early warning signs, call an ambulance immediately. The sooner an individual who is having a stroke receives medical attention, the better their prognosis will be.

Understanding What a Stroke Feels Like

Every stroke is unique and will feel different depending on the location of the blocked or burst artery.

While individuals cannot feel blood supply being cut off during a stroke, they may exhibit some very distinct signs of a stroke including slurred speech, arm weakness, and facial drooping. These signs, among others, can cause a variety of physical sensations and emotions.

By knowing the warning signs of stroke and seeking immediate medical attention, you could minimize the impact of brain damage and potentially save a life.

We hope this article helped you better understand what a stroke may feel like and why prompt treatment is essential.

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My husband is getting better and better!

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In Jerry’s photo below, you can see him with the FitMi pucks below his feet for one of the leg exercises:

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