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Serving the Susquehanna Region

When it Comes to Stroke, act F.A.S.T.

by UPMC Susquehanna

Staci MondellBy: Staci Mondell, BSN, RN, SCRN
UPMC Susquehanna Stroke Program Coordinator

Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death, and the number one cause of disability in America.

Rapid treatment for stroke is the key to preventing disability and death. Everyone should learn the warning signs of stroke. Early signs may include a sudden severe headache, weakness on one side of the body, numbness in an arm, leg or face, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination, and difficulty walking, speaking or seeing.

If you suspect someone may be suffering a stroke, think F.A.S.T:

  • Face drooping: Ask the person to smile. Is one side of the face drooping?
  • Arm weakness: Ask the person to raise both arms. Is one arm weak or numb?
  • Speech trouble: Ask the person repeat a simple sentence like “the sky is blue.” Is speech slurred or hard to understand?
  • Time: When it comes to stroke, time is crucial. If someone is experiencing any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately—even if the symptoms start to fade.

Are all strokes the same?

There are two main types of stroke: hemorrhagic and ischemic. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bleeds due to a tear or an aneurysm. Ischemic stroke is more common and is caused by a blockage in one of the arteries carrying blood to the brain. This blockage prevents oxygen and nutrients from reaching the brain, which causes brain cells to die rapidly.

How is a stroke treated?

With all stroke treatments, time is critical. Treatment must be rendered within hours of a stroke’s onset. The goal is to restore blood flow to the brain as quickly as possible to prevent permanent brain damage or death.

The EMS team starts to provide care immediately after arrival and alerts the emergency department staff to activate the Stroke Alert protocol. The ED may administer Alteplase, also known as tPA, a clot-dissolving medication used to treat ischemic stroke. Patients who receive the clot-busting drug Alteplase are typically monitored in the hospital’s intensive care unit for 24 hours.

A neurologist will work with emergency staff to evaluate and diagnose the patient to determine the appropriate treatment. Another treatment for stroke is endovascular intervention where a specialist removes a clot in an artery leading to the brain. This highly specialized procedure can only be done at an endovascular hospital or certified comprehensive stroke center.

Once stabilized, a patient begins rehabilitation. In cases where stroke has caused limited or extensive disability, inpatient rehabilitation begins within days of treatment.

The best course of treatment is prevention.

Common risk factors for stroke include: high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, atrial fibrillation, high cholesterol, poor diet, obesity, and lack of exercise. If you have a family history of stroke or any of the common risk factors, take steps today to address those concerns with your family doctor.

For more information on stroke care, visit

Staci Mondell, BSN, RN, SCRN, is the Stroke Program Coordinator at UPMC Susquehanna, an accredited Joint Commission Primary Stroke Center since 2006.