Using FAST to tell if you are having a stroke

Jacqueline Carter, MD, is a neurologist and medical director of the Stroke Program at Banner Desert Medical Center in Mesa.

Question: I’ve heard there is a treatment that can help lessen damage from a stroke, but only if you get to an emergency room in time. How will I know if someone is having a stroke and what should I do to help them get treatment quickly?

Answer: Understanding how to recognize stroke symptoms is the most important thing you can do to ensure a person gets appropriate and potentially life-saving treatment. The FDA has approved a medication that dissolves the blood clot that causes the most common form of stroke, and in turn may reduce long-term disability associated with stroke. But this medication, known as tPA, must be administered within three hours of the first symptom of stroke, so reacting quickly is essential.

Symptoms of stroke occur suddenly and may include numbness, especially on one side of the body; confusion or trouble speaking or understanding; vision problems; trouble walking, or a feeling of dizziness or loss of balance; or severe headache.

The National Stroke Association has developed an acronym called FAST to help people identify the symptoms of stroke. F stands for “Face” – look at the person’s face and see if one side droops when smiling. A stands for “Arms” – when the person lifts both arms, check if one arm falls downward. S stands for “Speech” – listen for slurring or strange speech patterns. T stands for “Time” – if any of these symptoms are observed, call 911 immediately and note the time the first symptom appeared.

Depending on the type of stroke, tPA may not be an appropriate treatment, but other options are available to help reduce neurological damage. Regardless, recognizing the symptoms of stroke and seeking immediate medical attention can dramatically improve the prospects for recovery.

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