Signs of Stroke? Remember BE FAST—And Call 9-1-1

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“BE FAST” is an important acronym to remember when thinking about stroke symptoms and about how to respond if you suspect a stroke. Keeping this phrase in mind can help reduce the risk of speech problems, permanent weakness, brain damage, or even death. See below for how we define BE FAST. 

What Is A Stroke?

A stroke, also called a cerebrovascular accident, affects the blood vessels in your brain. A stroke can happen when either a blood vessel breaks causing bleeding into the brain or more commonly (about 85% of the time) a blood vessel is blocked, depriving the brain of blood flow. Without flowing blood brain cells rapidly run out of oxygen and die.

The good news is, rapid treatment can reduce or even reverse the damage caused by a stroke — but time is critical. As they say, “time is brain.” In other words, the more quickly a stroke is recognized and treated, the better the chances of preserving brain function.

Use BE FAST To Spot A Stroke

Learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of stroke is a very important thing for everyone to do, just like learning 911.

BE FAST is a great way to remember the signs and symptoms so you can call 911 at the first sign of a stroke: 

Balance: Does the person have a sudden loss of balance?
Eyes: Does the person have sudden trouble seeing or blurred vision in one or both eyes?
Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Is their speech slurred or strange?
Time: If you see any of these signs, it’s time to call 911 immediately. Also, take note of the time when the symptoms first appeared and give that information to the ambulance team.

Other Signs of Stroke

Stroke symptoms usually come on suddenly. Other signs can include numbness (especially on one side of the body), confusion, difficulty understanding speech, trouble seeing, sudden loss of balance, sudden severe dizziness, or sudden and severe headache. Even so-called “mini strokes”, or transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) should be treated as medical emergencies, because they increase the risk of major stroke.

Get Treatment FAST

It’s worth repeating: If you see the signs of suspected stroke, call 9-1-1 for an ambulance. This is true even if the symptoms seem to go away. An ambulance is the fastest way to medical treatment.

Do not attempt to drive yourself or another person to the hospital. If you try to drive yourself, you could become unconscious behind the wheel. What’s more, the emergency medical services (EMS) teams can save valuable time by starting life-saving procedures in the ambulance on the way to the hospital emergency room.

The ambulance crew can take patients directly to hospitals that have advanced stroke care, and they can call the hospital while they are on the way so the stroke team can be ready when the patient arrives. Prompt treatment can save lives and reduce the long-term effects of ischemic stroke, providing the best possible chance of full recovery.

Lancaster General Hospital is accredited by the Joint Commission and recognized by the Pennsylvania Department of Health as a Primary Stroke Center. Lancaster General Hospital is the only hospital in Lancaster County to offer mechanical thrombectomy, an advanced stroke procedure.

author name

Danielle B. Cross, MD

Danielle B. Cross, MD, is medical director of the stroke program at Lancaster General Hospital and a neurologist with Penn Medicine Lancaster General Health LG Health Physicians Neurology. Dr. Cross is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. She completed her residency at NYU Langone Medical Center and a vascular neurology fellowship at UCSF Medical Center and Hospital.

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