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If You Suspect Stroke, Think F.A.S.T.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month

Even though up to 80% of strokes are preventable, on average, a stroke occurs every 40 seconds. Every four minutes someone dies of a stroke in the United States.

Would you be able to recognize a stroke if was happening to you or someone around you? Unfortunately, too many people miss the signs of stroke and delay medical attention for hours—sometimes even days—after suffering a stroke. Because of this the American Heart Association is urging everyone to learn the warning signs of stroke during May.

What Is a Stroke?

As explained by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a stroke occurs if the flow of oxygen-rich blood to a portion of the brain is blocked. Without oxygen, brain cells begin to die after a few minutes. Sudden bleeding in the brain can also cause a stroke if it damages brain cells. A stroke is a serious medical condition that requires emergency care. It can cause lasting brain damage, long-term disability, or even death.

Stroke can happen to anyone at any time—it’s not just an older person’s disease. Risk factors for stroke such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes are happening at younger ages. Sadly, these risk factors may not be recognized and treated in younger or middle-aged adults.

When it Comes to a Stroke, Think F.A.S.T.

Together to End Stroke, is the American Stroke Association’s national initiative to bring awareness that stroke is largely preventable, treatable, and beatable. Stressing the importance of reducing risk while knowing the signs and symptoms of stroke, the Association is determined to reach their goal of building healthier lives by reducing disability and death from stroke by 20% by 2020.

Only about two out of three Americans can correctly identify at least one sign of a stroke. Together to End Stroke is helping Americans more easily recognize warning signs through a quick and easy acronym called F.A.S.T. It’s a simple way to remember a few of the warning signs of a stroke and the importance of getting treatment immediately:

Face drooping: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven or lopsided?

Arm weakness: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

Speech difficulty: Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or are they hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.” Is the person able to correctly repeat the words?

Time to call 9-1-1: If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and say, “I think this is a stroke” to help get the person to the hospital immediately. Time is important! Don’t delay, and also note the time when the first symptoms appeared. Emergency responders will want to know.

Sometimes other symptoms appear, separately, in combination or with F.A.S.T. signs:

  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech.
  • Sudden numbness or weakness of face, arm, or leg. Especially on one side of the body.
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes.
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, and loss of balance or coordination.
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

“Stroke is a scary issue, no doubt about it,” notes Ruby Souhan, MS, NP-C, Nurse Practitioner with the Vermont American Heart Association. “But stroke doesn’t have to mean death or disability. The quicker a stroke is recognized and the quicker the stroke victim receives medical attention, the less like there is the chance for long-term damage. It is so important to call 9-1-1 as soon as humanly possible.”

You Can Work to Prevent Stroke

Although stroke is our nation’s No. 4 leading cause of death and leading cause of long-term disability, research suggests that nearly 80% of strokes may be prevented if certain risk factors are controlled, including obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and physical inactivity.

“The best thing you can do for yourself is to live a healthy lifestyle,” continues Souhan. “Eating healthy, exercising, and getting regular check-ups won’t only make you feel better in the here and now, but it could save your life in the future.”

To assess your risk of heart diseases and a stroke, visit

Taking action to control risk factors can help prevent or delay a stroke. The American Stroke Association recommends the following changes can help prevent your first stroke or help prevent another one.

  • Be physically active. Physical activity can improve your fitness level and health. Talk to your doctor about what types and amounts of activity are safe for you.
  • Don’t smoke. If you smoke or use tobacco, quit. Smoking can damage and tighten blood vessels and raise your risk of stroke. Talk with your doctor about programs and products available to help you quit.
  • Aim for a healthy weight. If you’re overweight or obese, work with your doctor to create a reasonable weight loss plan. Controlling your weight helps you control risk factors for stroke.
  • Control your blood pressure. Damage to your blood vessels from undetected or uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to heart attack, stroke, heart failure, and other serious health threats.
  • Get some sleep. Ongoing sleep deficiency is linked to an increased risk of heart disease, kidney disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. Try your best to get a good seven to eight hours of sack time every night.
  • Make heart-healthy eating choices. Foods like fruits, vegetables, fish, and whole grains can lower your risk for stroke and heart disease.
  • Manage stress. Higher levels of stress are associated with significantly increased risk of stroke in middle-age and older adults, according to the American Heart Association journal Stroke. Ask your doctor how you can lower your stress levels.

If you or a family member has had a stroke, be sure to tell your doctor. By knowing your family history, your doctor may be able to help you lower your risk factors and delay or even prevent a stroke.

The doctors and staff at CCHC Neurology focus on disorders of the brain, spinal cord, muscles, and peripheral nerves—including the diagnoses and treatment of stroke. For more information, or to schedule an appointment, call (252) 637-7860 or visit

(Sources: American Heart Association; American Stroke Association; National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; National Institutes of Health; Million Hearts; and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)