According to the American Stroke Association, stroke is among the ten leading causes of disability and death in the United States. However, when a stroke strikes, it's important to act fast, said Dr. Paul Magda, a neurologist at CareMount Medical. It might just save a life.
"During a common stroke, oxygen and nutrients are blocked from supplying vital brain areas, by a clot within an artery," said Magda. "When starved of oxygen and glucose, brain cells called neurons die and physical and mental abilities rapidly diminish. It is estimated that for each minute of lack of blood flow, 1.9 million neurons are destroyed."
That’s why it’s crucial to quickly recognize the symptoms of a stroke. "Rapidly seeking emergency care after spotting the initial symptoms of stroke, allows doctors to administer powerful clot-busting therapies that can open up the artery, and reduce or even completely reverse the effects of a clot-based stroke," he said. "These treatments are only effective in patients within 4-6 hours of occurrence; the sooner after onset the better the result."
In order to accurately asses a stroke victim, the acronym F.A.S.T. helps people remember and spot the signs of a stroke:
F: Facial drooping – Ask the person to smile. Is one side of the face drooping and uneven?
A: Arm weakness – Ask the person to raise both arms. Is one arm weak and drifting downward?
S: Speech difficulty – Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Their speech may be slurred and hard to understand, or the person may be unable to speak.
T: Time to call 911 – If the person shows any of these symptoms – even if symptoms are improving – call for help immediately. Note the time that symptoms first appeared, as that will be important to doctors.
There are various types of strokes, said Magda, and stroke symptoms that resolve rapidly are sometimes called mini-strokes. However, it’s wise not to discount these symptoms as a “passing thing,” he cautioned. "Just like a true stroke, it's caused by a clot blocking blood flow to vital brain regions," said Magda. "The difference is that, unlike in a stroke, the clot dissolves and the artery spontaneously opens up. However, your concerns about these symptoms should definitely not be temporary." In these instances, it's important to seek medical help immediately.
As with most sudden killers, quick thinking can save lives. "There’s a saying among stroke neurologists: time lost is brain lost," said Magda. "The phrase drives home what we all need to keep in mind: Commit F.A.S.T. to memory – and don’t wait to act if you spot stroke symptoms."