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BE FAST to Recognize the Signs of a Stroke

by Wenzhuan He, MD

Stroke is also referred to as a brain attack. A stroke occurs every 40 seconds in the U.S. and it’s the leading cause of long-term disability. If detected early and with proper treatment, there’s a better chance of survival and less long-term effects. 

There are two type of stroke, ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke. Ischemic stroke is more common and accounts for 80-85% of strokes. Ischemic stroke occurs when a clot blocks the blood vessel that supplies the brain causing damage of the brain tissue due to deprivation of the oxygen. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a break in the blood vessel causes bleeding in the brain. Regardless of the type of stroke, the symptoms are similar and only testing can help distinguish the two.  

The phrase “time is brain” is used to emphasize that the brain tissue is lost due to acute stroke. Study suggested that about 32,000 neurons lost every second after ischemic stroke, so it’s important to be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of stroke and seek care.


When it comes to a stroke, it’s important to BE FAST. This acronym can help you remember the signs and symptoms of a stroke, and what to do if someone is experiencing them. It’s important to recognize the symptoms quickly and to get to an emergency department as soon as possible for treatment.  

BE FAST stands for:

  • Balance – Sudden dizziness or loss of balance.
  • Eyes – Sudden change in vision or trouble seeing.
  • Face drooping or numbness – Look for an uneven smile.
  • Arm weakness – Check if one arm is weak.
  • Speech difficulty – Listen for slurred speech, difficulty word finding, or appear to be confused.
  • Time – Call 9-1-1 right away.

Other stroke symptoms can include a sudden and extreme headache and difficulty swallowing.

Are You at Risk for Stroke?

Some risk factors for stroke are out of your control, like family history and age, but other risk factors you can control, include managing your chronic health conditions.

To minimize your risk:

  • Avoid alcohol and illegal drug use.
  • Manage underlying medical conditions such as coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, and diabetes.
  • Maintain a healthy weight and diet and exercise regularly.
  • Don’t smoke and if you are a smoker, quit.

Talk to your provider about your risk and how to manage them. If you have underlying health conditions, you may also need medication to help lower your risks.

Treatment for Stroke

Medical advances have increased the treatment options for ischemic stroke, and the gold standard is to use medication to dissolve the clot, however, there is a time window for this treatment to be effective. Delaying care may decrease the viability for this type of treatment, as you need to get that medication shortly after the start of the symptoms. 

If you are observing someone exhibiting the signs and symptoms of a stroke, call 911. Do not take a blood thinner or other medication as they may make your symptoms worse. Getting to the closest emergency department and stroke center is key, and emergency medical personnel are trained to know where to go and how to get the patient ready for treatment once they arrive at the hospital.

Remember, a stroke is an emergency BE FAST when seeking care.

Learn more about Neuroscience Services at UPMC.