According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, stroke is the fifth-leading cause of death for people in the United States. Most of those strokes are ischemic strokes, which occur when blood flow to the brain is blocked or reduced, Dr. Brandon Giglio, the director of vascular neurology at NYU Langone Hospital—Brooklyn, previously told HuffPost.
Strokes are serious and scary. They can cause lasting brain damage resulting in speech problems, vision issues, memory loss, decreased bodily functions and even comas. But experts say the faster you get your stroke addressed, the more likely you’ll be able to avoid the problems mentioned above.
“Time is of [the] essence and the person should seek immediate medical attention,” Dr. Ahmed Itrat, the stroke medical director at Cleveland Clinic Akron General, previously told HuffPost.
Doctors say there is a useful and easy mnemonic device that can help you recognize the signs of a stroke so you can get help as soon as possible. Here’s what to know:
Monitor yourself for stroke symptoms by using the BE FAST acronym.
“There’s an acronym called BE FAST that is widely accepted,” Giglio said. It lays out stroke symptoms in an easy-to-remember way so you can get help ASAP.
The signs, outlined below, that make up the acronym come on quickly. Here’s what BE FAST stands for:
- Balance — being unable to balance or experiencing balance changes.
- Eyesight — vision changes including blurriness, double vision or the inability to see.
- Facial droop — drooping of the face or an uneven smile.
- Arm — weakness of the arm on one side of the body.
- Speech — speech changes including gibberish and word slurring.
- Time — it’s time to call emergency services. The “t” can also stand for “terrible headache,” Dr. Joshua Willey, a stroke neurology expert at Columbia University’s Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, previously told HuffPost.
“We always encourage people who have had evidence of stroke to seek care,” Willey said. And that’s immediate care — not waiting around for the next appointment with your doctor. Call 911.
It’s also important to know the stroke risk factors.
Certain people are more likely to experience a stroke, like those who are over age 55, those with diabetes, people with sleep apnea and more.
But there are factors that you can control to decrease your risk, according to the American Stroke Association. These include reducing smoking, controlling high blood pressure and high cholesterol, limiting alcohol and drug use and increasing physical activity. The American Stroke Association also recommends eating a diet that is high in fruit and vegetables, lean proteins like chicken and fish and whole grains.
There are also risk factors that are out of your control, like your age, your gender (strokes are more common in women), your race (strokes are more common in Black people) and a history of stroke or heart attack.
If you fall into any of the above categories, it’s important to talk to your doctor about your stroke risk and monitor yourself for any of the BE FAST symptoms mentioned above.