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Stroke Symptoms: Recognize Them FAST Before it’s Too Late

Stroke Symptoms:  Recognize Them FAST Before It’s Too Late

Strokes occur approximately every 40 seconds in the United States according to the National Stroke Association.  And they often cause either death or severe disability.  However, now through the availability of clot-busting medications, we don’t have to sit on the sidelines waiting to see how things turn out.  In fact, if we act quickly, and identify strokes using the FAST test, we can save lives and sometimes stop strokes in progress.  Together let’s look at the causes, helpful identification strategies, and common treatment options for strokes.

strokeArtsyBee/ Pixabay.com

How Strokes Happen

When someone has a stroke, their brain stops getting normal blood flow and brain cells can start to die.  This can occur one of two ways.  There can be a blockage stopping the blood from getting where it needs to go.  On the other hand, there can be an abnormal opening and blood is going somewhere it doesn’t belong, leaving less or none to go where it is needed.  It might help to think of it like either a clogged or a leaky pipe.

Identifying Strokes Using the FAST Test

The sooner we recognize that someone is having a stroke, the sooner we can start doing something to help him or her.  To help us do this quickly, the FAST test was developed.  Each of the letters F-A-S-T stands for something that will remind you what to check.

F- Face

Ask the person to smile and check to see if one side of their face droops.

A- Arms

Ask the person to raise both of their arms.  Look to see if one arms starts to drift down toward the floor.

S- Speech

Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase such as “The sky is blue.”  Listen to see if they have trouble saying it or if it is slurred or heard to understand

T- Time

If you notice ANY of these symptoms in a person call 911 immediately.  Even if the symptoms seem to go away.  Time is brain and the clock is ticking!

Emergency Treatment Options

The treatment options differ depending on whether you have a clog or a leak.  If you have a leak (known as a hemorrhagic stroke), the treatment is usually conservative in hopes that the internal bleeding will stop on its own.  In some instances when the bleeding is excessive or not stopping, surgical procedures may be needed to stop the bleeding.

If the cause is related to a blockage (known as an ischemic stroke), then it is important to determine if it can be removed.  It may be possible to and reopen the path to allow blood flow to start again.   Some people can benefit from a medication called tissue plasminogen activator (TPA), a clot-busting drug that goes through the veins.  However, it needs to be given within 4.5 hours after stroke symptoms or it is no longer considered a safe choice.  That’s why it’s so important to seek help immediately.  Brain surgery may also be used to remove clots in certain cases.

What Happens if you Wait too Long

Sadly, not every knows how to recognize the symptoms of a stroke or seeks help quickly.  In these cases, the window of time to use TPA may pass and that is no longer an option for ischemic strokes.  If the stroke cannot be stopped, everyone needs to wait and see what type of damage has been done.  In a nutshell, the type of damage seen depends on which part of the brain has been injured.  In the worst cases, death can occur.  If the individual does survive the stroke, the following types of problems may still occur.

  • Communication impairments
  • Vision problems
  • Mobility issues (usually on one side of the body)
  • Speech impairments
  • Behavior changes
  • Swallowing difficulty
  • Changes in taste and smell

As a nurse, I have seen many patients suffer strokes and have to deal with the resulting deficits.  The one situation that really stands out in my mind is the case of a construction worker who didn’t know about the importance of seeking help immediately.  He decided to wait until morning to see if he felt better.  Unfortunately, he did not feel better, in fact, he was worse and it was too late to use clot-busting drugs.  He ended up unable to speak clearly, unable to move one side of his body, and literally sat in the chair crying out of frustration most of the day.

Rehabilitation centers do a wonderful job of helping people restore functions and abilities that have been lost.  However, not everything can be restored.  So do your best to prevent problems whenever you can, identifying a stroke using the FAST test, and call 911 for immediate help when needed.  Save some brain or maybe even save a life.

Reflection Questions:

1.  It’s not only important that you know the FAST test, but that your family and friends do too.  Whom can you share this information with today?  They may be the ones helping to save your brain one day.

2.  Would you like to learn more about how to prevent a stroke in the first place?  If so, check out this link for additional helpful information.  Preventing a Stroke.


American Stroke Association

National Stroke Association

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