In honor of American Stroke Month, we’ve spent the entire month of May discussing harrowing statistics about how stroke affects Americans. From African Americans, who face the largest risk of all races, and women, who experience 55,000 more strokes a year than men, education is key in learning how to lower the odds and achieve optimal health.
Regardless of proactive methods of prevention, the reality is that 795,000 people in the United States experience stroke each year. So how do we even identify signs of stroke and quickly move to treatment?
We sat with Stacey L. Epps, M.D., Neurologist at Bon Secours Watkins Centre Neurology Clinic, who explained the importance of paying close attention to warning signs, especially since symptoms of stroke often go unnoticed.
“That’s the most important thing to know about stroke,” Dr. Epps explains. “Stroke doesn’t hurt. For example, we all know that if we get chest pain, we go to the Emergency Room. It could be indigestion, esophageal spasm, or anything else, but we all know that chest pain equals Emergency Room. For stroke, the symptoms can be varied, but generally, there is no pain.”
With the exception of one very special type of stroke where an aneurysm ruptures and causes severe headache, strokes are virtually painless, so we must employ alternative methods of quickly spotting warning signs and seeking treatment right away.
“Our treatment for stroke has to be given in a defined period of time,” he advises. “We need you in the Emergency Room as soon after symptoms start as possible, because you’re out of the window for treatment in three hours in most cases.”
Yes, if stroke is not treated within three hours of its occurrence, the victim will succumb to the long-term effects, including mental and physical developmental delays, and sometimes, the results are fatal. To overcome any long-term effects, Dr. Epps shares with us the latest developments to the stroke identification method we’ve known for decades. Where we’ve traditionally used the F.A.S.T method for identifying stroke, Dr. Epps introduces a new method, explaining that we should B.E. F.A.S.T.
B- Balance. The abrupt onset of balance difficulty. Observe closely for a loss of balance or coordination.
E- Eyes. Are you experiencing double vision, or loss of vision in one or both of your eyes? Many times, victims of stroke often experience some type of visual disturbance.
F- Face. When you smile, do you notice your face drooping on one side?
A- Arm. When raising both arms, do you notice one arm drifting downward?
S- Speech. Some people think they or a family member are confused because they’re not using language properly, but that’s a sign of a stroke. Listen closely for any sign of slurred speech or a difficulty with language.
T- Time. When was the last time the person in question was known well? Most importantly, if you experience any of the above symptoms, then it’s TIME to call 9-1-1.
If we’re committed to lowering risk factors, lowering the odds, and living our healthiest lives, we must also commit to educating ourselves and others on the warning signs of stroke. Of the 795,000 people who suffer a stroke each year, more than 140,000 people die from it. It’s also the leading cause of long-term disability in the United States, but again, data is not destiny. Let’s all decide to B.E. FAST. Identify the key warning signs, catch the symptoms, most of which aren’t marked by physical pain, and most importantly, receive or recommend treatment right away.