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Published on May 03, 2017

stroke spelled out on wooden blocks

Knowing the Signs of Stroke Can Save Lives

Two small words —  just six letters — and three numbers can be enough to save a life.

Too often, we all are unfamiliar with the signs of stroke, a medical emergency. Knowing these two words and 911 can make a life-changing difference.

The two words are BE FAST* and their letters spell out the signs of stroke:

B – Balance loss

E – Eyesight loss

F – Face drooping

A – Arm weakness

S – Speech difficulty

T – Time to call 911

Even if you’re uncertain, you should still call 911. Avera Medical Group Neurologist William Rossing said these simple steps make all the difference in the world.

“Immediate treatment may minimize the long-term effects of a stroke or save a life, and that’s why it’s so important to take no chances,” he said. “Remember the key letters and yes, it’s best to call 911 even in a false alarm situation. Speedy response can be the difference between life and death.”

Stroke used to be the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, and medical advances in treating people who have strokes has pushed it down to our country’s fifth leading cause of death. But Rossing said more education is necessary.

“When we look at the BE FAST method, it can help to delve deeper into the letters,” he said. “For the face, we encourage you to ask the person to smile. If the smile is uneven or lopsided, that can be an indicator. Facial numbness on one side also is a warning sign of stroke."

Rossing also reminds people that the method has evolved, with the addition of B and E. Many people may have every-day balance or eyesight issues. But if they come on quickly, out of the blue – it is likely an indication of stroke.

Knowing the Warning Signs

Rossing said in a stroke situation, arm weakness on one side of the body also may be apparent. Ask the person to raise both arms, and if one drifts down, again, call 911.

Speech difficulty – the S in FAST – is the last sign and could show up as slurred speech or an inability to put together simple sentences. “We often use ‘The sky is blue’ as an example. Ask the person to say that, and if they cannot, don’t hesitate, call 911 and get help right away,” said Rossing. He said confusion, trouble with vision or walking or severe headache – all happening suddenly – are other potential signs of stroke.

“Ischemic strokes occur when a blood vessel in the brain is blocked by a clot, and with proper medical attention, IV clot-busting medication can be used to treat the blockage and increase the likelihood of recovery,” Rossing said. “When there’s a delay in response to the warning signs, the treatment’s success is lower because these clot-busting medicines are most helpful when given quickly – in the first few hours after the onset of stroke.”

Hemorrhagic strokes happen when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures. Both call for immediate attention, but ischemic strokes are more common. Physicians can treat some hemorrhagic strokes, when necessary, with endovascular techniques or surgery.

Speed Matters - BE FAST

Again, if the B and E signs suddenly appear, or are followed by F, A or S signs warnings, as the T in FAST reminds us, it’s time to call 911.

If you know the warning signs, you could end up saving the life of someone you know or love. Be bold in action, Rossing said.

“We’d much rather have a patient present to an emergency room and realize it is not stroke than to have you or someone you care about remain at home when every minute counts,” he said. “Know the signs and call 911.”

* Intermountain Healthcare developed the BE FAST approach as an adaptation of the American Stroke Association's FAST model. It's reproduced with permission from Intermountain Healthcare. Copyright 2011, Intermountain Healthcare.

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