Did you know that the brain can heal itself after a stroke? Brain cells damaged through stroke can regenerate through a process called neurogenesis. About 15 million people worldwide have experienced a stroke, and early detection and treatment play a critical role in stroke rehabilitation. Here, we will introduce a quick and easy way to recognise a stroke, known as F.A.S.T. We aim to raise awareness of stroke, its warning signs, and preventative measures. By the end, you should be aware of “act F.A.S.T.” to identify a stroke, what to do during a suspected stroke, and how acting fast can save the lives of those around you.
Introduction to Strokes
Strokes appear suddenly. When the blood flow to a part of the brain is stopped, it results in a stroke. The brain, like all other parts of the body, requires oxygen obtained from the blood. When the brain cells are starved of oxygen, they become damaged, leading to a cut-off of blood supply that ultimately results in a stroke. A stroke is a medical emergency, where immediate attention and urgent treatment are essential.
Stroke symptoms can manifest in many ways, depending on which part of the brain is affected. In some cases, the effects might be barely noticeable, but more often than not stroke symptoms are severe and disabling. Some of the common symptoms observed in a stroke patient include:
- Drooping face
- Sudden weakness in arms or legs
- Speech difficulty
- Sudden dizziness
- Changes in vision, or blurred vision
- Sudden loss of balance
- Confusion, memory loss.
Sometimes, with early detection and treatment, these changes can be reversed.
When a person is taken into the hospital for a suspected stroke, the doctor will take a CT scan and inspect the brain of the patient to determine the type of stroke that occurred.
Strokes are classified into two groups depending on the nature of problems in vessels supplying blood to the brain. It can either be a blockage (85% of the cases), called an ischemic stroke, or a bleed (15%), called a hemorrhagic stroke.1
Blockage or ischemic strokes are caused due to the buildup of fatty material in blood-supplying vessels, which results in the formation of a blood clot that blocks the blood supply. Sometimes it is possible to misunderstand a stroke as a heart attack.
A bleeding or hemorrhagic stroke happens when a blood vessel suddenly causes blood to leak in or around the brain, leading to swelling in the brain.
Sometimes the stroke symptoms completely disappear in less than 24 hours. If this happens, this is called a mini-stroke, pre-stroke, or Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA).
Types of stroke illustration4
Stroke treatment differs according to the severity and type; if a blockage stroke is detected within the first few hours, a clot-busting medication is administered to dissolve the clot, and this process is called thrombolysis. If thrombolysis cannot be used, other medications, such as aspirin, will be given as treatment. Bleeding stroke treatment might require surgery.
F.A.S.T. Warning Signs
A quick and easy way to recognize stroke is via warning signs, known as F.A.S.T. 2
F - Face: Check the face of the patient - can they smile normally or is there any unevenness observed in their face?
A - Arm: Check for any arm weakness - can they lift both arms? Is one arm hanging down or weaker than the other?
S - Speech: Check the speech of the patient - is their speech slurred or strange?
T - Time: Time is critical - it is important to take steps quickly and call 999!
What to do if you Suspect Someone is Having a Stroke
If any of the above signs occur and a stroke is suspected, call 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance. Often, symptoms only last a few minutes but, just like with a full stroke, it is necessary to go to the hospital immediately. Just remember to act FAST and seek help immediately - acting fast can save a life.
What can we do to prevent a stroke? Some risk factors of strokes can be medically managed, and some are lifestyle factors we can change.3
- High blood pressure is considered to be the primary cause of stroke, so maintaining/lowering blood pressure is critical;
- Quitting smoking and lowering alcohol intake;
- Being more active and eating healthy would result in lower cholesterol and good management of diabetes (if you have the condition), re ducing the possibility of stroke.
- Campbell, Bruce C. V., and Pooja Khatri. “Stroke.” The Lancet, vol. 396, no. 10244, July 2020, pp. 129–42. ScienceDirect, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)31179-X.
- Phan Vo, Lucy, et al. “Impact of the Act FAST Stroke Campaign Delivered by Student Pharmacists on the Primary Prevention of Stroke.” Journal of the American Pharmacists Association, vol. 57, no. 3, May 2017, pp. 326-332.e6. ScienceDirect, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.japh.2017.02.026.
- Owolabi, Mayowa O., et al. “Primary Stroke Prevention Worldwide: Translating Evidence into Action.” The Lancet Public Health, Oct. 2021. ScienceDirect, https://doi.org/10.1016/S2468-2667(21)00230-9.
- Types of Strokes. 14 Nov. 2017, https://kauveryhospital.com/blog/neurology/types-of-strokes/.