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Think F.A.S.T. to spot signs of stroke

By Dr. Patrick Breslin • Oct 22, 2017 at 8:00 AM

This Sunday, Oct. 29 is World Stroke Day. Did you know worldwide stroke is the leading cause of disability and the second leading cause of death globally?

According to researchers at the National Stroke Association, stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, affecting approximately 800,000 people each year. What’s scary is that a recent survey by the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association found 35% of American adults experienced a symptom consistent with a warning or "mini" stroke, but did not seek help. A person who has had a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) is almost 10 times more likely to have a stroke than someone of the same age and sex who hasn’t. Research also shows women are more likely than men to have a stroke.

With the upcoming World Stroke Day, this is a perfect time to highlight information about stroke and educate you on a great way to remember the signs of a stroke.

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot (ischemic) or ruptures (hemorrhagic). When someone has a stroke — time is of the essence. The longer it takes to get a stroke victim the care he or she needs, the more brain damage that will be done. “Time is brain” is the mantra doctors use because brain cells die within minutes.

If you’re wondering if someone is suffering a stroke, just think F.A.S.T. The first letter in each of the words make for an easy way to remember the typical stroke signs: Face, Arm, Speech and Time. Knowing the signs will also prepare you for what you can do to save a life.

Here are stroke signs that could help you save someone’s life.


The first thing you want to look at if you think someone is having a stroke is their face. Ask the person to smile. Look to see if one side of their face is drooping, or if the smile is lopsided.

Facial paralysis occurs during a stroke when nerves that control the muscles in the face are damaged in the brain.


You should also ask the person to raise their arms. If one arm drifts downward, that’s a sign of a stroke. The person may also complain of numbness. The numbness may spread throughout one side of the body.


Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. For example, you could have them say, “The mouse ran up the clock.” Is their speech slurred or strange?


Don’t waste any time. If you observe any of these signs, call 911 immediately. Doctors are even using tele-stroke technology to save time when treating stroke victims. A live-stream camera enables specialists to remotely assess stroke patients and direct emergency room doctors in the critical moments following a stroke.

Other symptoms you should know:

• Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech

• Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes

• Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination

• Sudden severe headache with no known cause

Depending on the severity of the stroke and how long blood flow to the brain is interrupted, a stroke can cause temporary or permanent disability. But remembering four letters (F.A.S.T) and three numbers (911) could be the key to saving a life. The sooner you recognize the signs and get help, the better the chance for recovery.

If you think you or someone you love is experiencing stroke symptoms, get to your nearest emergency room.


Dr. Patrick Breslin, who is board certified in internal medicine, serves as both a hospitalist and the stroke committee medical director at Fisher-Titus Medical Center.

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