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Act F.A.S.T. When Someone Is Having a Stroke


By Lauren Livingston, Communications Director, American Heart Association

May is American Stroke Month. Stroke is a disease that affects the arteries leading to and within the brain. It is the number-five cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States.

Anyone can have a stroke anytime, so it’s important that everyone know the signs and what to do in the event of a stroke. Getting immediate medical attention is critical when someone is having a stroke. Immediate treatment may minimize the long-term effects of a stroke and even prevent death. Thanks to recent medical advances, stroke treatments and survival rates have improved greatly over the last decade.

An easy way to remember the most common signs of a stroke is to think of the acronym F.A.S.T.— Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, and Time to call 911. If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 911 and say, “I think this is a stroke” to help get the person to the hospital immediately. Time is important! Don’t delay, and even if you’re unsure if it is a stroke, call 911 anyway. Also, note the time when the first symptoms appeared, emergency responders will want to know.

Sometimes other symptoms appear, separately, in combination or with F.A.S.T. signs — sudden confusion; trouble speaking or understanding speech; sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden trouble walking; dizziness; loss of balance or coordination; or sudden severe headache with no known cause. If someone shows any of these symptoms, call 911 or emergency medical services immediately.

A stroke occurs when a vessel in the brain is blocked by a blood clot or ruptures. A stroke caused by a clot is called an ischemic stroke; about 85 percent of all strokes in the United States are ischemic. The only FDA-approved treatment for ischemic strokes is Alteplase IV r-tPA also known as tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). If administered within three hours (and up to four-and-a-half hours in certain eligible patients), Alteplase IV r-tPA may improve the chances of recovering from a stroke. A significant number of stroke victims don’t get to the hospital in time for Alteplase IV r-tPA treatment; this is why it’s so important to identify a stroke immediately. The faster a stroke patient is treated, the more likely they are to recover without permanent disability.

To learn more about stroke and the F.A.S.T. signs, visit www.StrokeAssociation.org.