Whether you’ve had a stroke or worry about one coming on, you should know the signs of a possible stroke in progress. You can memorize a list of symptoms, but researchers have come up with an easier way to remember the most important signs of a stroke. They created the acronym FAST, which stands for face, arm, speech, and time. Remembering these four criteria will help you to know if a stroke is in progress. Even if you’ve had one stroke, it is important to know this acronym so that you can judge if a second stroke is affecting you. Secondary strokes are an important and dangerous consideration for stroke patients.
Facial symmetry can tell you a good deal about a person’s well-being. If you’ve had a stroke, you may already have some drooping or facial asymmetry. In an initial stroke, this is a primary sign that the person is having a stroke. You should ask the patient to smile and check if it is even. Have them stick out their tongue and determine if it stays straight or curves to the side. You may also want to survey the face to see if one eye is drooping lower than the other. Even with a secondary stroke, it is possible that the degree of facial drooping can become worse. Examining the face and noticing differences can mean the difference between a mild and severe stroke.
Another place to look for symmetry is in the arms. If you are having a stroke, one arm will be harder to hold up than the other. Even drifting or trending downward can mean that the paralysis is starting to affect the limb. Again, patients who have had a stroke may already have this symptom, but a secondary stroke definitely makes it worse. Have the person hold both arms in front of them and watch for drift or struggling to keep one arm up next to the other. In some cases, the arm may be completely flaccid and unable to move at all, and this is a sign that you need to get help. Arm paralysis is a number one sign of a stroke in progress.
Sometimes when the other symptoms don’t show any changes, you may notice a change in a person’s speech. It is very difficult to talk while having a stroke, and the words can come out slurred or completely garbled. Some stroke survivors have speech symptoms, but caregivers and survivors need to look for a worsening in the situation. Where once you may have been able to speak with a slight slur, a second stroke could make it completely impossible for you to talk. This is a very helpful way to know if you are having a stroke because speech takes a great coordination of muscles. When you are experiencing paralysis, it becomes harder to control those muscles, and that leads to slurred speech.
Finally, time isn’t so much a symptom as it is something that needs to be documented for the medical professionals. If you notice any of the above symptoms, you should note down the time they started. If you don’t remember the time they started, at the very least, notice the time that you became aware of them. This is because time is brain when it comes to stroke. The longer the symptoms have been progressing, the worse the severity usually is. In addition, certain medications, such as tPA, can only be used within a certain time frame after a stroke. By knowing the time the symptoms started, medical professionals can determine if they are able to use all of the therapeutic methods at their disposal.
If you notice any of these signs, it is important to get to medical help immediately. Don’t drive yourself or your loved one to the hospital. Call an ambulance, because, as mentioned, time is brain. In an ambulance, a great deal more can be done with a stroke victim, and it is capable of driving faster under emergency circumstances. You don’t have to be completely sure about your diagnosis, either. If you suspect that one or more of these symptoms is appearing, note the time, call an ambulance, and wait with your loved one until help arrives.