Temporary Loss of Function

Topic Overview

Signs of loss of function include:

  • Numbness, loss of all feeling, or inability to move part or all of one side of the body (paralysis).
  • Confusion or altered behavior, such as the inability to fully rouse a person from sleep, or unusually aggressive or combative behavior.
  • Sudden dimness, blurring, loss of vision in one or both eyes, or double vision.
  • Inability to speak, difficulty speaking, or difficulty understanding speech.
  • Inability to or difficulty walking or standing (ataxia).
  • Headache, which is severe and in a specific area, without another apparent cause.
  • Dizziness or loss of balance with nausea or vomiting.
  • Fainting or loss of consciousness.

A temporary loss of function can have many causes, such as a minor injury to an arm or leg, stress, or a more serious problem, such as a seizure. Most people have felt a leg "fall asleep," causing a pins-and-needles sensation, and then quickly return to normal after some movement or change of position.

Most of the time the cause of a temporary loss of function is not so obvious and may be serious. Loss of function, even for a few minutes, may indicate a decrease in blood flow to the brain. Vertigo or lightheadedness may occur before a:

  • Stroke , which can cause progressive and permanent loss of function. Call 911 or other emergency services immediately if you suspect a stroke is occurring.
  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA) , which causes a brief and temporary loss of function. Even though function returns after a TIA, the TIA is a warning sign that a stroke may soon occur. The first TIA needs to be treated as an emergency. A TIA may mean that you have an increased chance of having heart disease or a heart attack.

Prompt medical attention is required for anyone with signs of loss of function, even if the loss of function is brief and temporary.


Author Jan Nissl, RN, BS
Editor Susan Van Houten, RN, BSN
Associate Editor Tracy Landauer
Primary Medical Reviewer William M. Green, MD - Emergency Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer H. Michael O'Connor, MD - Emergency Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Steven L. Schneider, MD - Family Medicine
Last Updated October 12, 2009

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