BE FAST and Spot the Signs of Stroke
By Carole Thomas, MD, Neurologist, Virtua Neurosciences
You may be familiar with some of the signs of a stroke: face drooping, weakness, or numbness on one side of the body, or slurred speech.
But some symptoms of a stroke can be less obvious, or may occur more frequently in women than men. Knowing all the possible signs so you or a loved one can receive immediate treatment may reduce the long-term effects of a stroke and improve your quality of life.
Why Time to Treatment Matters
A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is disrupted. Without steady blood flow, your brain cells begin to die, leading to possible paralysis, trouble speaking, and problems thinking clearly.
There are two main types of stroke:
- An ischemic stroke happens when a blood vessel supplying oxygen-rich blood to the brain is blocked.
- A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a weakened blood vessel bursts and bleeds into the surrounding brain tissue.
You can’t tell the type of stroke you are having. Regardless, minutes matter. The sooner you get effective stroke treatment at the hospital—whether through a clot-busting medication called a tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) or surgery—the better your chances for recovery.
Know the Symptoms and What to Do:
Use the acronym BE FAST to remember the symptoms:
Balance: Sudden trouble with balance or coordination
Eyes: Sudden blurred, double, or total loss of vision in one or both eyes
Face: One side of the face looks drooping or uneven. Ask the person to smile if you aren’t sure.
Arm: Is one arm (or leg) weaker than the other? If they raise both arms, does one drift down?
Speech: Is speech slurred or hard to understand? Are they unable to speak? Ask the person to repeat a short sentence.
Time to get help. Stroke is a medical emergency. Call 911 and get the person to a hospital immediately.
While the BE FAST acronym is a terrific tool for identifying stroke, there are other signs of a stroke to be mindful of as well, including sudden:
- Weakness or numbness in the face, arm or leg—especially on only one side of the body
- Severe headache with no apparent cause—like the worst ice cream headache you’ve ever had
Specific Stroke Symptoms in Women
For women, it is important to know that you may experience different symptoms than men. Some are vague, and may be more easily dismissed or attributed to another medical condition.
These different stroke signs in women include:
- Loss of consciousness or fainting
- General exhaustion
- Difficulty or shortness of breath
- Sudden behavioral change
- Nausea or vomiting
If you think you or a loved one is having a stroke, call 911 and get to the nearest hospital for treatment.
Neurosciences Partnership with Penn Medicine
The Penn Medicine Virtua Health partnership brings the region’s foremost leader in neurological treatment and research to South Jersey. Together with the specialists at Virtua Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, a New Jersey-designated Comprehensive Stroke Center, the Penn neurovascular team uses state-of-the-art techniques to minimize stroke damage.
A Penn neurosurgeon is on call around the clock.
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Updated May 13, 2022