What is a stroke?
A stroke occurs when blood (oxygen) cannot get to the brain tissue, and the brain cells die. A stroke can be caused by a clot (called an ischemic stroke) or a ruptured blood vessel (called a hemorrhagic stroke). About 9 out of 10 strokes are caused by a clot.
An ischemic stroke is similar to what happens with a heart attack, when blood to the heart is blocked by a clot and the heart tissue dies. Risk factors for heart attack – age, smoking, unhealthy lifestyle, family history – are the same for stroke.
The predominate symptom of a heart attack is crushing chest pain, but pain is not the most common symptom of a stroke.
Because it is so important to recognize, diagnose and treat a stroke as quickly as possible, the American Stroke Association came up with an easy mnemonic: F.A.S.T.
Face Drooping: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven?
Arm Weakness: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
Speech Difficulty: Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?
Time to Call 9-1-1: If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get the person to the hospital immediately. Check the time so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared.
What is a TIA?
TIA stands for transient ischemic attack, and it’s like a mini stroke. The symptoms disappear within a minute or so, and there is usually no lasting impairment.
However, if you see symptoms of a stroke, don’t wait to see if they go away within a few minutes. A TIA might foreshadow a true stroke. Call 9-1-1 to get medical attention as soon as possible.
Why is speed so important?
The best treatment for ischemic stroke is a clot-busting drug called tPA. Brain tissue continues to die as long as it is deprived of oxygen; dissolving the clot and restoring blood flow is vital to reducing impairment and improving outcome.
As you can imagine, even in the best-case scenario, from the time you call 9-1-1 to the point when the doctor has diagnosed an ischemic stroke and is ready to start treatment, at least an hour will have passed.
So if you are with a friend, family member or complete stranger and you recognize stroke symptoms, think F.A.S.T.!