Acronym helps to recognize stroke symptoms fast

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It is a word with just four letters: FAST. But remembering what the letters stand for could mean the difference between life and death.

At Memorial Medical Center in Springfield, Ill., a program to help identify the symptoms of a stroke is getting noticed. The hope is that people hearing the acronym, which stands for face, arm, speech and test, are also improving their health in the process.

Patty Young, Memorial’s rehab admissions coordinator, said the FAST program was designed to help identify symptoms in the event of a stroke.

“One of the problems with stroke symptoms is that many people ignore them,” Young said. “For many it’s too late when they get to the hospital to do some treatment options.”

Some stroke victims don’t go to the hospital, according to Young, because they don’t think their symptoms are a big deal.

“They think it might be something that is going to go away. It may seem mild, like a foot going to sleep or just being tired,” she said. According to Memorial’s Web site, a stroke is often referred to as a brain attack. It is considered the No. 1 cause of adult disability and the No. 3 cause of death in the United States, striking more than 500,000 people every year.

The effects of a stroke may include paralysis, poor memory and loss of speech. Just knowing the meaning of FAST may get you to the hospital quicker to prevent prolonged damage. Here’s how FAST works:

• Face: This tells you that if a person’s face is drooping around the eye or mouth that could be sign of a stroke.

“If they can’t get half of their face up and there is numbness and drooping, they could be having a stroke,” Young said. “Typically, it’s just going to affect one part of the body.”

• Arm: This means you should check for arm weakness. Memorial’s Web site says that one symptom is the inability to raise both arms evenly.

• Speech: Check for speech impairment, such as slurred speech or difficulty repeating simple phrases.

• Test: This is a reminder that if you do suspect a stroke, use the FAST method and seek medical attention. Young said spotting a stroke in a timely manner could allow clot-busting medications to be administered and other treatments to begin. She said if symptoms are spotted within three hours of onset, victims might be eligible for clot-busting medication.

“This will allow the clot to dissolve; blood will be restored and functions can return,” she said. “Those first few minutes are critical. Call 911, seek attention right away.”

Young said strokes can affect any age group. She has dealt with people from age 32 up into their 90s. And she said there are other factors that may contribute to a stroke.

“Age can have an impact. Medical history, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, coronary artery disease. The leaders of this are those who are diabetic or obese,” she said.

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