Strokes or brain attacks happen due to loss or restriction of blood supply to the brain or a part of the brain. This starves the brain tissue of blood, oxygen, and essential nutrients causing them to create complications or die if immediate medical help is not received. Moreover, a rupture or bleeding in the blood vessels preventing blood and oxygen to reach the brain tissues – can also be the cause of stroke. A stroke is a critical medical emergency that needs immediate medical care to avoid worsening of the situation to cause permanent brain damage or death.

A stroke can be of two basic types – Ischemic stroke that occurs due to narrowing or blocking of the blood vessels that supply blood to the brain. These blood vessels are blocked or narrowed due to accumulation of fatty material, debris or blood clots that travel through the bloodstream and clot the blood vessels of the brain. Another type of stroke is a hemorrhagic stroke that happens when a blood vessel in the brain leaks or ruptures causing excessive blood to seep into the blood tissue, damaging the brain cells. This stroke can be triggered due to multiple factors such as ischemic heart stroke, blood thinners, weakening or thinning of the walls of the blood vessels, high blood pressure, etc.

Another variant of a stroke is a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) which is more of a temporary stroke whose symptoms last merely for minutes and also do not cause any permanent damage but act as a warning sign. TIA happens due to similar reasons as that of an Ischemic heart stroke – clogging or narrowing of blood vessels restricting the supply of blood to the brain.

That said, in any case, a stroke is a matter of emergency and needs immediate medical attention and care. Hence, it is very important to recognise and understand the symptoms of a stroke to call for help for yourself or anyone experiencing a stroke. It is critical to remember the symptoms of strokes as quicker the medical help is received lower are chances of complications and death. Hence, to educate people about detecting stroke symptoms, the National Stroke Association, American Heart Association, and several others devised an acronym – FAST – which would significantly help people remember and recognise the symptoms of a stroke. FAST was first used in the United Kingdom in 1998 and ever since has gained acceptance and popularity because of its applicability and easiness.

FAST Stroke Symptoms and Signs include:

F – Face Drooping

A – Arm Weakness

S – Speech Difficulty

– Time to call for emergency medical help

F stands for Face which implies drooping or numbness on either side of the face. The fastest and easiest method to detect a stroke is to analyze a person’s face. Check:

  • Is one side of the face drooping?
  • Is one side of the face numb?
  • Is the face drooping while smiling?
  • Is the smile uneven or lopsided?

A stands for Arms which implies that a person experiencing a stroke will have weakness or numbness in one arm as compared to the other. Raise both arms for 10 seconds, if one droops without control or falls, it can possibly indicate a stroke. So check:

  • Is one arm weak or numb?
  • Raise both arms, does one drift downward?

S stands for Speech Difficulty which implies that a person experiencing a stroke is likely to have difficulty in speaking/talking – it could be slurred or jumbled. In some cases, the person might not able to speak at all. A stroke might also cause problems in understanding of speech. Best to ask the person to speak a simple sentence and check:

  • Is the speech slurred?
  • Is the person unable to speak?
  • Is it hard to understand a person’s speech?
  • Is the person not able to understand speech?

T stands for time to call for emergency medical help which implies that even if there is a show of any of the above symptoms of FAST no matter if they tend to disappear right after, a person must immediately call 911 for medical help, since the sooner a patient receives treatment for stroke, higher are chances of survival, as well as reduced damage and complications.

Hence, FAST serves an easy acronym to help remember and detect stroke symptoms and potentially save lives. Moreover, certain other symptoms that must be looked out for as they could also possibly indicate a stroke are:

  • Numbness or weakness in one side of the face, arm or leg
  • Sudden problems in vision in one or both eyes
  • Difficulty in walking
  • Difficulty in maintaining balance
  • Dizziness
  • Lack of coordination
  • Unexplained, severe headache
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Hallucinations
  • Breathlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Seizures
  • Lack of responsiveness
  • Extreme agitation

It is important for all us to recognize symptoms to a stroke to get timely help and avoid complications such as brain damage, permanent disability or even death.

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