F-A-S-T: This Stroke Acronym Can Save Your Life

There’s a reason doctors say “time is brain.”

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Everything about a stroke demands speed. The symptoms of stroke are abrupt, the diagnosis must be prompt, and the treatment must be immediate. For every minute a stroke is untreated, a person can lose around 1.9 million neurons, according to the National Stroke Association.

“We know ‘time is brain,’” says Carolyn Brockington, MD, a neurologist at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. “That means that the longer the brain isn’t getting enough blood flow, the more likely there’s going to be permanent injury.”

In a 2010 study of more than 3,600 stroke patients, researchers found that the odds of a favorable outcome increased as the time between stroke onset and medical treatment decreased. Furthermore, the longer treatment for stroke was delayed, the lower the chance of survival.

F-A-S-T: What Does It Stand For?

Perhaps no acronym is more fitting for stroke detection and treatment than F-A-S-T.  This acronym can help remind you to “act fast” when a stroke is happening—to you, a loved one, or even a stranger on the street.

  • F is for Face: A classic stroke symptom is a drooping face, usually only affecting one side. The person may be unable to smile or show other facial expressions as usual.

  • A is for Arms: Weakness in one or both arms may indicate a stroke. If the person is drooping an arm or unable to lift it, it may be a stroke.

  • S is for Speech: Someone having a stroke may have garbled speech that almost sounds like they’re intoxicated. They may struggle to communicate, or to understand your words. You can ask the person to repeat a simple phrase; if they are unable to repeat it clearly, they might be having a stroke.

  • T is for Time: Once you’ve noticed drooping face, weak arms, and garbled speech, it’s time to take action quickly. “Time is so important with the brain so we want people to know: dial 911,” says Dr. Brockington. “That means it’s an emergency situation [and] they’ll be taken to the closest stroke center for rapid treatment.” (Find out why calling 911 is so important for stroke treatment.)

Of course, the best treatment for stroke is preventing one from happening in the first place, which means making lifestyle choices that keep your blood vessels strong and healthy. Here are ways to lower blood pressure naturally, and learn more lifestyle tweaks for a healthy heart.