As British statesman Benjamin Disraeli is credited with saying, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” But in a sports city like Dallas, statistics usually tell a pretty good story, and this one is completely true: Nearly 800,000 Americans will have a stroke in 2016. To put that in context, that’s enough people to fill AT&T Stadium 10 times!
Stroke is the leading cause of disability in America and the fifth-leading cause of death. With improved stroke treatment, which is more specialized today than 20 years ago, the death rate from stroke has declined. However, we still face the major hurdle of people recognizing symptoms and understanding that strokes are medical emergencies.
Thanks to stroke education and community outreach in North Texas, awareness of stroke symptoms is improving. BE FAST is a big part of that success.
What is BE FAST for stroke symptoms?
The acronym BE FAST is a handy technique to help you quickly recognize common signs of a stroke. This outlines questions to ask about the telltale signs your friend or loved one may be having a stroke, plus action to take:
Balance – Is there a sudden loss of balance or coordination?
Eyes – Is there sudden blurred or double vision or sudden, persistent vision trouble?
Face – Ask the person to smile. Is one or both sides of the face drooping?
Arms – Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one side drift downward? Is there weakness or numbness on one side?
Speech – Does the person have slurred or garbled speech? Can he/she repeat simple phrases?
Time – Call 911 for immediate medical attention if you notice one or more of these signs. Also, take note of when symptoms began.
I can’t overstate the importance of the “T” for time factor. It’s the only part of the acronym that isn’t a symptom, but it’s vital to include – because quick action is key to treatments that can be offered for strokes.
Knowing stroke symptoms and getting immediate medical attention are key to saving brain function. About 2 million nerve cells are lost for every minute strokes go untreated.
Why is time crucial in cases of stroke?
The faster a person who’s suffered a stroke gets medical attention at a comprehensive stroke center, the greater the chance we can save a life and reverse the long-term effects of stroke.
There are two types of stroke, and time is vital to successful treatment in both cases.
The first type is ischemic stroke, which occurs when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel in the brain. About 85 percent of all strokes in the United States are ischemic. A transient ischemic attack (TIA) happens when blood flow to part of the brain is blocked or reduced, but, after a short time, blood flow returns and the symptoms go away.
We treat ischemic stroke with a clot-busting drug called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). The drug dissolves the clot, and blood flow to the affected part of the brain improves. If tPA is given within three hours of an ischemic stroke, the patient has a much better chance of a full recovery. Unfortunately, too many stroke victims don’t make it to the hospital in time for tPA treatment.
Surgery to extract clots is also an option in some cases. We may be able to perform an endovascular (blood vessel) procedure up to eight hours after stroke symptoms first appear.
The other type of stroke – hemorrhagic stroke – represents the other 15 percent of all stroke cases and yet is responsible for about 40 percent of all stroke deaths. During a hemorrhagic stroke, blood spills into or around the brain, creates swelling and pressure, and damages brain cells and tissue.
For hemorrhagic stroke, we often use drugs to reduce blood pressure or slow down the bleeding. Again, this is an emergency treatment, so response time is a major factor. Afterward, we may perform surgery to repair the ruptured blood vessel. In less severe cases, bed rest might be enough to allow the rupture to heal on its own.
Can I prevent a stroke?
Many strokes can be prevented. Stroke prevention starts with a proper diet, plenty of exercise, and a healthy lifestyle. In some cases, medication may be an option to reduce stroke risk factors. If you or someone you love is at risk for stroke, it’s not too late to make lifestyle changes, starting now.
High blood pressure is the single greatest risk factor many people can control. It’s a good idea to check your blood pressure regularly and work with your doctor to control it.
Other risk factors you should work with your doctor to control include:
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease
- Abnormal heart rhythm (atrial fibrillation, or AFib)
Find out about stroke risk factors, and then take action to manage them.
Be healthy, BE FAST
Be prepared and BE FAST if you recognize the signs of a stroke. Take a minute to memorize the acronym so you can act quickly. Time saves brain, and fast action saves thousands of lives and prevents disability. That’s the kind of statistic we can all believe.