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Acting F.A.S.T. during stroke can save life and function

Stroke is currently the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, with a stroke occurring every 40 seconds, yet 80 percent of strokes are preventable. 

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot, or bursts or ruptures. When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood and oxygen it needs, so it and brain cells die. 

“During National Stroke Awareness Month, HSHS St. Elizabeth’s Hospital along with the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association encourages everyone to learn the warning signs and symptoms of stroke. Knowing how spot a stroke and acting FAST can save a life,” notes Misty Dickey, BSN, RN, CEN, Stroke Facilitator for St. Elizabeth’s Hospital.

The acronym F.A.S.T. teaches people to recognize a stroke and what to do if one occurs:

F – Face Drooping: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? 

A – Arm Weakness: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S – Speech Difficulty: Is speech slurred, are they unable to speak, or are they hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence like, “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?

T- Time to call 9-1-1: If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get them to the hospital immediately.

Additional stroke signs include: Sudden severe headache with no known cause; sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; or sudden confusion or trouble understanding.

Studies show that patients who arrive in the Emergency Room within the first three hours of their first symptoms, have better outcomes and less disability than those that delayed care.

 “The chances of survival are greater when emergency treatment begins quickly, so patients should ALWAYS call 9-1-1 if a stroke is suspected.  Immediate treatment and early intervention may minimize the long-term effects of stroke,” shared Dickey. 

St. Elizabeth’s Hospital serves as an Emergent Stroke Ready Hospital and offers a stroke telemedicine program, which connects stroke patients at St. Elizabeth’s to world-class neurologists using an audio and video connection through a telemedicine robot. When potential stroke patients arrive at St. Elizabeth’s, they receive appropriate treatments immediately to ensure the best outcomes possible. St. Elizabeth’s also has an Intensivist-led Critical Care Department and an Acute Rehabilitation Unit to provide region-leading care to maximize each patient’s recovery capabilities. 

Dickey also stresses the importance of understanding that while stroke risks vary by age, they can happen to anyone.  According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2009, 34 percent of people hospitalized for stroke were less than 65 years old.  

According to the American Stroke Association, risk factors for developing a stroke include the following: 

Age – The chance of having a stroke approximately doubles for each decade of life after age 55. While stroke is common among the elderly, many people under 65 also have strokes.

Heredity (Family History) – Your stroke risk may be greater if a parent, grandparent, sister or brother has had a stroke. 

Race – African-Americans have a much higher risk of death from a stroke than Caucasians do. This is partly because African-Americans commonly have higher risks of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity.

Gender – Each year, women have more strokes than men, and stroke kills more women than men. History of preeclampsia/eclampsia or gestational diabetes, smoking and post-menopausal hormone therapy may pose special stroke risks for women. Be sure to discuss your specific risks with your doctor.

Prior Stroke, TIA or Heart Attack – The risk of stroke for someone who has already had one is many times more than that of a person who has not. Transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) are “warning strokes” that produce stroke-like symptoms but no lasting damage. TIAs are strong predictors of stroke. A person who has had one or more TIAs is almost 10 times more likely to have a stroke than someone of the same age and sex who hasn’t. Recognizing and treating TIAs can reduce your risk of a major stroke. TIAs should be considered a medical emergency and followed up immediately with a health care professional. If you have had a heart attack, you are at higher risk of having a stroke.

To learn more about St. Elizabeth’s Stroke Telemedicine Program, visit www.steliz.org/stroke or to learn more about St. Elizabeth’s Stroke Support Group call 618-234-2120, ext. 52004. An online private support group is also available through Facebook. To join, simply log in to Facebook and search “Stroke & Recovery Support Group at HSHS St. Elizabeth’s,” then request to join the group.