Many medical conditions allow you plenty of warning. Development of type 2 diabetes can occur over the course of decades. The first signs of certain cancers can be observed well before the condition is life-threatening. But in the case of a stroke, every moment counts. While there are many treatments for a stroke, the ones that work the best are only available if the stroke is recognized and diagnosed within the first 3 hours of symptoms.
That’s why you are encouraged to act FAST during a stroke. It’s not just capitalized for emphasis, it’s a mnemonic device used to help you remember what needs to be done in the event of a stroke. If you encounter someone who you suspect might be experiencing a stroke, remember to do the following:
Ask the person to smile. Is one side of the face beginning to droop? Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arms, or leg is one of the first signs for a stroke.
Ask the person to raise both of their arms. Is one of them drifting downward? This can be a sign of weakness.
S - Speech
Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their response slurred or strange, or do they seem to have trouble understanding you?
T - Time
It's time to call 9-1-1 right away. Make a note of the time when the symptoms began to first appear—it can be critical information that can inform paramedics when they arrive on the scene. They can begin treatment en route to the hospital.
The FASTer you react to a victim’s stroke, the better chance you have of being able to prevent irreversible damage to their brain. Remember, the goal of FAST is to get you to act quickly—it is not intended as a universal diagnosis tool. There are three major kinds of strokes, each with different warning signs and symptoms.
The most common form of a stroke is called an ischemic stroke. These are caused when plaque builds up in the body’s arteries and begins to narrow them. As the blood flow slows, it can begin to pool. Once that happens, it can begin to clump and form clots. If a clot blocks that artery, it can cause a stroke.
The symptoms that occur from an ischemic stroke can be different based on the part of your brain that is no longer receiving blood flow. The FAST rules are presented as a way to observe these symptoms as quickly as possible, but it may be useful to be aware of some of the other signs of a stroke.
In addition to numbness, some stroke victims may experience confusion and have trouble speaking or understanding others. They may experience dizziness or a loss of balance and coordination. Look to see if they experience any trouble walking. Finally, some people may experience either double vision or loss of vision.
Finally, it may be useful to know more about who are more susceptible to experiencing an ischemic stroke. Age is a factor—people over the age of 60 are at a greater risk of experiencing a stroke. Having a history of high blood pressure or cholesterol, heart disease, diabetes or smoking may make one more susceptible to a stroke. Finally, a family history that includes ischemic stroke would also leave one at an increased risk of having a stroke.
The most important thing to do in the face of a stroke is to act quickly. By using FAST, you may be able to identify a stroke as it occurs—and allow responders the time they require to get to a victim and offer them the life-saving treatment that they require. Remember to be sure to call 9-1-1 instead of attempting to transport them yourself. If you have any other questions about an ischemic stroke, including what factors may put you at risk, be sure to ask your health care professional.