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Published on April 09, 2021

stroke spelled out on wooden blocks

BE FAST — Knowing the Signs of Stroke Can Save Lives

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

The two words are BE FAST – six letters that 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

The number is 911, and if the above symptoms present, you should call, even if you are uncertain.

Avera Medical Group Neurologist and Medical Director of Avera’s stroke program Jeffrey Boyle, MD, 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. “A speedy response can be the difference between life and death.”

About 795,000 people in the United States suffer a stroke each year, and it’s the fifth leading cause of death in the nation.

“When we look at the BE FAST method, it can help to delve deeper into the letters,” he said.

Knowing the Warning Signs

Many people may have everyday balance or eyesight issues. But if they come on quickly, out of the blue – it is likely an indication of stroke. “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."

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 Boyle.

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,” Boyle 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 in the first few hours after the onset of stroke.”

Hemorrhagic strokes happen when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures. Physicians can treat some hemorrhagic strokes 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.

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

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