Suspect a Stroke? Act F.A.S.T.

If you suspect that you or a loved one is having a stroke, call 911.

It’s a call that can mean the difference between life or death. Unfortunately, during the pandemic, it is a call that too few made. Across the nation, stroke death rates increased as people elected to stay home with stroke symptoms rather than seek immediate help.

May is Stroke Awareness Month, and I and other neurologists hope that people will remember to act F.A.S.T. This acronym is meant to remind people what clues or signs to look for when dealing with a possible stroke and how to respond:

  • Face: drooping or loss of sensation in the face
  • Arms: Can a person lift their arm, or does it drift downward?
  • Speech: loss or slurring of speech
  • Time: Time is brain. The longer a person waits to get help, the more brain cells die.

A stroke is caused by either a blood clot in the brain that blocks blood flow to the brain or bleeding in the brain. It is the fifth leading cause of death and the leading cause of long-term disability in the country. Strokes can come on suddenly, with symptoms ranging from numbness or weakness on one or both sides of the body, sudden vision or speech changes, or a crushing headache. They are particularly common in people with heart rhythm abnormalities, but can occur at all ages from various causes, even minor trauma or neck manipulation that inures vessels going to the brain.

Calling 911 is essential, as emergency personnel are trained to recognize stroke symptoms and will take a patient to the nearest designated stroke neurology receiving center, where an expert team will be ready to receive them – and where the patient will have a higher chance of survival and of maintaining quality of life.

Of course, no intervention is as powerful as prevention. People with a family history of stroke or untreated blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, or high cholesterol can take measures to reduce their risk. These include quitting smoking, staying hydrated, getting regular sleep and exercise, and sticking to a healthy diet. Also, following up with their primary medical doctor to ensure their risk factors are adequately treated.

Should someone experience symptoms of stroke, please know that, thanks to our advanced therapies and coordinated system, patients in our neurosciences intensive care unit tend to do well here. But, first, they have to get here.

We’re not out of the woods with COVID yet, but please don’t let that stop you from seeking the care you need.

So, please, if you or a loved one is experiencing stroke symptoms, call 911. It’s the right call to make.

David M. Brown is a neurologist, Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, Newport Beach, CA.

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