Think FAST When It Comes to Stroke Awareness


By: , SparkPeople Blogger
  :  29 comments   :  18,567 Views

In October 2008 I was watching the World Series when I suddenly noticed the left side of my face becoming numb. At first I thought it was due to a new moisturizer I started using a few weeks earlier. I did not mention anything to my husband when it started, however as bedtime loomed, I remember thinking something wasn't right. The numbness became more severe, as if I had just come home from the dentist after having Novocain injected into my gums.

As a Registered Nurse I felt I was too young to have a stroke, after all just a few short weeks earlier I was given a clean bill of health by my physician. I had even completed a 12 mile run the day before in preparation for my second half-marathon. But something didn't seem right, so I awakened my husband and off to the hospital we went. They immediately took me back and did a thorough evaluation of my status. I was asked to smile, hold my arms out in front of me and lastly I was asked to repeat a sentence that the nurse told me.

Thankfully I passed all the initial criteria. I was scheduled for a CAT Scan, MRI, as well as an overnight stay in the hospital. The next morning I received a visit from a cardiologist and neurologist. It was believed that the numbness was not caused from a stroke, but was a migraine aura, one that I have never experienced before prior to the onset of the headache. I am grateful that my healthy lifestyle is helping lower my risk of stroke, but it is not a safety net either.

That was over 3 years ago and that scenario could have turned out as a totally different story had I actually experienced a stroke. While doing research on strokes I was shocked to read that strokes account for almost 800,000 deaths every year and is the fourth leading cause of death here in the United States. And when I read 25% of the people who experience a stroke are under the age of 65, was a huge wake-up call to not only educate myself on the signs and symptoms of stroke, but to help educate our SparkPeople community.

When it comes to stroke recognition, the quicker one is to respond to the signs and symptoms of stroke, the quicker the treatments can take place. It can literally be the difference between life and death.

But what if you don't know what those signs and symptoms are?

If you suspect that a loved one or family member is suffering from a stroke, it is imperative to think FAST. FAST stands for:
  • F = Face: Have your friend/family member smile. Do you notice one side of the face drooping down? If so, call for help immediately.
  • A = Arm: Have your friend/family member hold his/her arms straight out in front of them. Is one arm weaker than the other? Do you see a downward drift of one arm? If so, seek help immediately.
  • S = Speech: Have your friend/family member repeat a sentence. Is his/her speech slurred? Do they become confused? If so seek help immediately.
  • T = Time: As I mentioned earlier, time is of the essence when it comes to outcome.
Just know that these are just a few of the criteria noted for helping your healthcare provider to diagnose a stroke. If your loved one or friend becomes confused, complains of dizziness, experiences balance issues or complains of a sudden onset of a headache, these too, can be a sign and symptom of a stroke.

Fortunately, my situation was only a migraine, I learned a big lesson that October night. In the future, if I suspect anything that could be a potential stroke, regardless of my lifestyle or age, I will not delay a trip to the hospital. I will seek help immediately. I would rather be diagnosed with something benign than to have the debilitating outcome from delayed treatment or worse, death.

Did you know what FAST was an acronym for? Have you had to do perform this on a friend or a loved one? Do you find blogs covering these type of topics helpful?

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    Good info, but not all strokes are the same. - 12/7/2017   5:41:43 AM
    Be careful of the traditional evaluation. My husband had a stroke--I checked the smile, lifting arms, ability to talk, etc. We thought it was a migraine. The next day the IT manager couldn't figure out how to turn on his computer.

    Took him to the hospital ER immediately. The traditional stroke checks are for the typical stroke. My husband had a hemmorhagic stroke. Had I given him an aspirin, it would have killed him.

    The OTHER SIGN TO CHECK FOR IN A STROKE IS THE WORST HEADACHE YOU'VE EVER HAD. Get to the hospital ASAP. - 8/6/2016   10:13:16 PM
    my husband just left the hospital he had the caradic artery 99 percent blocked and had to have the blockage removed on the 22nd he had a mini stroke - 7/27/2014   9:38:46 AM
  • 26
    As a St. John Ambulance first aid instructor I know the importance of public awareness and want to congratute you on a very well written article. There is so much missinformation out there about strokes that it is hard sometimes to ferret out the truth. The acronym FAST is used in our courses as well to help remember what to look for in a stroke. I am glad that it didnt turn out to be a stroke for you.

    I had a similar experience, I was teaching and started to experience double vision, weakness, intense pain behind the eye, my students couldnt understand me. I was terrified. Sometimes having too much knowledge is a bad thing. In the end, I went to Emergency where they did a bunch of tests. I too was told it was migraine related. Either way I got some good drugs for the rest of that afternoon.

    Hopefully, readers will learn from your experience and take the symptoms seriously. - 8/3/2012   7:27:45 PM
  • 25
    I had 2 strokes when I was 32 years old caused by a condition called Central Nervous System Vasculitis. Strokes can happen to anyone regardless of age or gender! - 4/27/2012   11:17:21 AM
  • 24
    This article really hits home for me. My grandmother had her first stroke on my son's first birthday and then a few more as the years went by. I witnessed her go from an active, independent woman who wanted to take care of everyone else to the exact opposite. After her second stroke she could barely speak and walking was extremely difficult. She was so frustrated...she knew what she wanted to say but just couldn't. The only thing that came out was "do, do, do, do" and an occasional "I love you", which took all of her energy.

    We lost Oma on December 31, 1998 due to yet another stroke. How I miss her so. I WILL ALWAYS LOVE AND MISS MY OMA!!!!!! - 4/26/2012   8:26:20 AM
  • 23
    Thanks for the article and the Acronism. I have copied and pasted thesymptoms in case I need them my DH has had a TIA and a Trans-Global Amnesia. I fear I will not remember what to look for so I want it right there in front of me. When the TGA robbed him of his memory but nothing else seemed to be wrong. I hesitated to go to the ER in the middle of a Saturday afternoon. He asked me over twice a minute if he had been to work, then what day is it.
    Eventually I reacted and took him to ER. Everyone he saw he immediatly forgot and I refused to leave his side in case he forgot me.
    He was admitted and I sat by his bed and talked to him. I asked him questions about history, English history his favourite subject and we went through the middle ages and in to recent times, that was more difficult but around 3am he remembered our last vacation. When our Dr returned i told him what we had done and he said i had done the right thing, just by my own gut instinct. He has never recalled that Saturday so just in case I need to have this handy so i can memorise it in case I need it. Thanks.
    YES more articles like this would please me a lot Pat in Maine. - 4/25/2012   9:08:15 PM
  • 22
    Thank you. This was a great blog. - 4/25/2012   2:17:31 PM
  • 21
    My aunt just had one, she's in her late 70's and is not doing well. I also had a friend, an active runner, have a stroke. She was in early 60's when it happened. She is now the VP of SSEEO ( ) a stroke awareness group, lots of info on the site.

    She set up a fund raising 1K, 5K and 10K run last September I did, and it is on this September too in Northeastern IL. - 4/25/2012   1:35:57 PM
  • 20
    Thank you for this blog. Having gone through so much medical stuff - I tend to WAIT stuff out before I head to the hospital. BUT I know better: My MIL had 8 mini strokes and was always taken to the hospital immediately - she was blessed with no ill effects. She worked until she retired and eventually died from dementia related issues.
    I am going to print up FAST and post it in my house.
    Thank you.
    Jean - 4/25/2012   9:47:23 AM
    Life is so fragile, we often forget just how fragile. Thanks for this very important information...hope I never have to use it! - 4/25/2012   8:58:21 AM
  • 18
    I love acronyms! They help to remember. Great info Nancy, and I'm so glad that you were not having a stroke. - 4/25/2012   8:54:19 AM
  • 17
    Two years ago, my insurance coverage changed. The new insurance wouldn't cover one of my blood pressure meds. I had a bad reaction to the one they tried to put me on. While the insurance company, pharmacy and my doctor were going around in circles, I was off the medication for 4 weeks. During the 4th week, my blood pressure skyrocketed to 200/100. It normally runs 110/60. At the end of that week, I ended up in the ER. They gave me some BP meds and drained some excess fluid. I went home and later that night as my BP started to go way up again, I had a TIA. My daughter was 17 at the time and is a lifeguard. She knew exactly what to do and handled the situation like a pro. I ended up spending 3 days in the hospital. - 4/25/2012   4:14:42 AM
  • 16
    Thank you for sharing this is such valuable information. Because I was aware of the symptoms I was able to diagnose my mom. However, I wasn't aware of the other symptoms NOLACHERIE mentioned.
    I'm glad yours was only a migraine. - 4/25/2012   2:14:40 AM
  • 15
    Thanks for taking the time to keep us informed of useful tools! - 4/25/2012   1:25:07 AM
  • 14
    Nancy, not to nitpick but rather I am really interested. You said that "strokes occur in 25% of the people under the age of 65". Does this mean that 25% of people under 65 will have a stroke, or that 25% of strokes that occur do so in people under 65? Either way, it's a significant (and SCARY) statistic. My son had a droopy, numb face experience when he was about 15-16. I took him to the doctor and it turned out to be Bell's Palsy. Scary to realize that it could have been a stroke as well! That had never even crossed my mind! - 4/24/2012   10:39:48 PM
  • 13
    I'm always learning important things reading these posts. Thanks for sharing. - 4/24/2012   10:19:26 PM
    I suffered what was diagnosed as a TIA in 2007, at the age of 34. Since then, my doctors have determined it was a full stroke. Just recently, after 3 months of comprehensive testing, they've found an aneurysm in my heart, which they believe caused the stroke in 2007. Mine occurred while I was sleeping; when I woke up, the right side of my face was completely numb, my mouth was pulled down on the right, and I couldn't stop drooling on myself. My right arm was also numb, but had some movement. At the time, I had no insurance, and I held off going to the hospital. It's SO important to take care of yourself immediately when something doesn't seem right! Thankfully, I have fully recovered, but am under careful observation at all times. Thanks for the post; all people should be aware of what to look for! - 4/24/2012   8:00:19 PM
  • 11
    I'd never heard of the FAST acronym, but am glad to know it. I'm grateful to not have yet been in a situation where I needed it. Knowing now, I won't ever be in a situation where I could have helped and didn't because "I didn't know better". - 4/24/2012   7:43:26 PM
  • 10
    Great information. Thanks so much for sharing your story and I m glad that your okay. - 4/24/2012   6:45:48 PM
  • JJONES435
    I am a stroke certified nurse and see it all the time. You have symptoms that don't appear to be anything at the time, but you have it for a few days, and oops finally go to the ER and see you've had a stroke. The sooner you treat the better. Always take stroke symptoms seriously, better safe than sorry. - 4/24/2012   5:19:31 PM
  • 8
    I work at a hospital system and we undergo annual stroke training. One of the most common sayings in the training is "TIME = BRAIN".

    Meaning the longer you wait to get to the hospital in a stroke, the greater chance of more brain dying and less chance of full recovery.
    When you think of it that way, it's a real 'aha' moment. - 4/24/2012   4:43:58 PM
  • 7
    These are great signs to watch for but they are NOT exclusive! Having just returned home on 4/21/12 from having a 4 day stay in the hospital, I know first hand. I had none of the above characteristic signs of a stroke & found I indeed had one & also 2 t.i.a.'s within the same time period (1 week).

    These were my signs:
    1. Numbness & paralysis of my arm from the elbow down, not the full arm. (Mon)
    2. Dizziness & a feeling of the room spinning. (Tues)
    3. Loss of eye co-ordination in which I couldn't focus. (Tues)
    4. And as we came to realize, earlier in the week I started having a difficult time completing sentences. Thought I was just having a ditzy week. LOL.

    During my episode Tues. night, I even asked myself if I could be having a stroke. I quickly thought of the things I'd read to check, as stated above in the article. I checked to see if I had weakness on one side - nope. Checked if my face was dropping - smiled & that was fine too. I was also talking clearly to my husband, so that sign was dismissed too.

    At first, we thought they were all unrelated & could be explained by something else. However due to the close period of time that they happened & they were more wierd than usual, we thought best to get things checked out.

    My reason for telling of my experience is because people need to know that the above signs do not always hold true. Listen to your body. Don't question yourself - if you feel something is strange or wrong, best be safe than sorry & get yourself checked out quickly. I was totally blessed & thankful for God's protective hands around me. I came out with no damage whatsoever except for what my neurologist says are the cells around the stroke area. Hope this helps!
    - 4/24/2012   4:04:50 PM
  • 6
    Interesting article. I get menstrual migraines and have been convinced that migraines are related to strokes. Your article just confirms this to me. I would love to find a study that proves this hypothesis. - 4/24/2012   3:53:20 PM
  • 5
    My mom just went over the FAST acronym with me a few days ago! Thanks for posting this. Never know when you will need information like this. - 4/24/2012   3:51:39 PM
  • 4
    As busy people, we tend to ignore symptoms. Don't. It's ok to be paranoid. - 4/24/2012   2:58:31 PM
  • 3
    I never knew these simple things before. THANK YOU - and God bless you! - 4/24/2012   2:56:25 PM
    Great blog, Nancy. I'm so glad you're healthy! - 4/24/2012   2:48:47 PM
  • 1
    Thank you for this very useful information! - 4/24/2012   2:06:37 PM

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