FAST is an acronym that stands for Facial drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties and Time to call emergency services. It is used to help detect symptoms of stroke. A stroke is when the blood supply to the brain is restricted or cut off. The severity of a stroke can range from mild, to severe, and will affect different parts of the body depending on how much of the brain tissue is affected. If you follow the FAST guidelines and check for all the symptoms involved, it will help you be able to determine the signs of a stroke and get the patient to emergency services as quickly as possible. Let's break it down, so you know what to look for when using the FAST stroke symptom acronym.
When your facial muscles become weak or appear to droop, this is part of the facial paralysis that occurs when someone suffers a stroke. This happens because the lack of blood damages the nerves in the brain that control the facial muscles to the area, or because of direct pressure from a blockage. Affecting either one of even both sides of the face, as well as a lack of movement, the face or side of the face may feel numb. A simple test is to look in the mirror and smile. If one side of your face does not lift as the other does, you may be experiencing some facial paralysis. If you are concerned about someone else, ask him or her to look directly at you and smile.
The sensation of your arm, or arms becoming weak is called Hemiparesis and is the second sign in the FAST method of detecting stroke. This arm weakness may still let you move your affected limb, but with severely reduced muscular strength, or it may be as strong as restricting your arm movement altogether. Whether it is your left or right side depends on which side of the brain has been affected by stroke. The right side of the brain will affect the left side of the body, and the other side, vice versa. The test for this is to raise both arms out in front of you and keep them aloft for a few seconds. If the arm is unable to rise, or if it slowly drifts downwards when both arms are up, it is a sign of weakness.
Experiencing speech difficulties is a common sign of a stroke, and a clear one to look out for. These speech symptoms occur because of the problems with the nerves in the brain, which control the larynx and vocal cords and facial muscles, all which are imperative to clear speech. You may feel your speech becoming slurred, or notice other people not being able to understand you. To test your speech, you'll need to speak a few simple sentences out loud, in the mirror or to another person to see if they understand you properly. See if the other person can repeat what you say.
When these symptoms are ticking all boxes, the next step is to call 911 or the emergency services in your area. What is important to be aware of is that you don't have to have every single stroke symptom, to still be experiencing a stroke. Strokes come in all shapes and sizes and affect people differently, so even though there are common symptoms, it is still an individual occurrence. The quicker you or someone in your presence at the time calls emergency services, the quicker you can be treated. Every minute counts when there is a lack of blood flow and oxygen to the brain.
The FAST system of spotting signs of stroke is straightforward and easy to use. There are, however, other symptoms that people experience when affected by a stroke that should not be ignored. These include dizziness and a loss of general coordination in the body, numbness in the legs or one entire side of the body, vision changes, in one or both of the eyes, sudden headaches and even going in and out of consciousness. Seizures are also a symptom of a severe stroke and, naturally, if someone is having a seizure, and an ambulance should be called immediately.
The optimal time for a stroke sufferer to get treatment is within one hour of the onset of symptoms. Prompt treatment of the patient is critical for brain function; the more time is spent without oxygen to the brain, the more of the brain dies in the time lapse. Statistics show that around one in four patients makes it to the hospital within the hour and of those people who arrived within 60 minutes were 2 and ½ times more likely to be treated immediately. Stroke is the leading cause of long-term disability in the U.S. and number 5 on the top leading causes of death. It's right behind heart disease, cancer, lower respiratory diseases and unintentional injuries caused by accidents.
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