Kentucky is part of the nation's "stroke belt," a region of southeastern U.S. states that rank above the national average in occurrence of stroke. In order to improve that statistic, it is vital for all Kentuckians to understand the signs and symptoms of a stroke, and to act quickly when any of those signs are present.
FAST is a public awareness educational tool, adopted by the American Heart Association, that reminds people to recognize many early signs of stroke and encourages people to take action fast when the first signs of a stroke occur. FAST stands for: Face drooping, weakness or numbness; Arm weakness or numbness; Speech difficulty or alteration and Time to call 9-1-1.
In past years, many patients felt that there was very little that could be done to treat a stroke. Consequently, many patients remained at home before seeking help — they waited and watched to see if stroke symptoms would recover. Fortunately, we now have acute stroke treatment that can minimize the damage of a stroke. The key for success is time; in the acute treatment of stroke, minutes matter. For every minute that we shorten the time between the onset of symptoms and the start of treatment, we can save brain tissue and save brain function.
We have the ability to intervene within the first three hours of a stroke with IV clot-busting medicine (tPA). Evidence has proven that patients who receive early intervention experience better outcomes and have less residual impairment than those who do not receive treatment during this critical time.
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The majority of patients have the best outcome with intervention three hours or less from the onset of symptoms. Additionally, our newest research has shown that our window of time to treat can be widened in certain cases. Some groups of patients can benefit from intervention within six hours of the onset of symptoms.
Stroke is the leading cause of long-term disability in the United States. Certainly, patients and families fear the injury of stroke, but many people do not realize that stroke is treatable and stroke symptoms can be reversible and potentially recoverable. The key issue is to treat the patient within a short window of time, ideally within three hours.
The fourth component of FAST is "time to call 9-1-1." It is very important when stroke signs or symptoms are present to call 9-1-1. Research shows that patients have the best outcomes by emergency medical service involvement from home to hospital. In all of our communities, the professional response of the EMS 9-1-1 system is fast, efficient and life saving.
By calling 9-1-1, a professional team of EMS paramedics arrive and deliver very specific action. They accomplish safe transport of the patient and provide care in ambulance. Additionally, they make radio contact with the emergency department that coordinates the smooth transition between ambulance and the hospital emergency department. Calling 9-1-1 is superior to any other plan to get help quickly for a loved one.
Prevention is still the number one strategy to avoid disability from stroke. It is important to control your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol, avoid smoking and limit alcohol consumption to less than two drinks per day on average.
Controlling risk factors for stroke is important at all ages and stages of life. Controlling risk factors helps prevent stroke and heart disease, but it also protects kidney function, another critical organ system. The earlier in life that you adopt a healthy lifestyle and control these factors, the greater the benefit over your lifespan.
May is National Stroke Awareness Month, and a great time to share FAST with your family and friends. Act FAST when stroke occurs and remember that minutes matter.