Caring Currents

Will You Act F.A.S.T. or Give Me 5 For Stroke?

Last updated: May 19, 2008

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Stroke blogger David Dansereau has written a terrific piece on a controversy brewing in the stroke world. In honor of National Stroke Awareness Month, both the National Stroke Association and the Stroke Collaborative want to educate people about how to recognize stroke symptoms and get help right away. Unfortunately, the two organizations are at odds about how best to get the message out.

The National Stroke Association is focusing its efforts on teaching people how to recognize stroke symptoms and Act F.A.S.T.

Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one end of the face droop?

Arm: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Does the speech sound slurred or strange?

Time: If you observe any of these signs, it's time to call 911.

According to Jonathan Bitz of the National Stroke Association, "F.A.S.T. is a proven vehicle for identifying the most common symptoms of ischemic (clot-caused) stroke." Bitz acknowledges that other symptoms (notably sudden blurred vision and sudden excruciating headache) may accompany a hemorrhagic stroke, but he points out that ischemic strokes make up 80 percent of strokes experienced in this country.

"The bottom line is that it currently takes the average American 12 to 24 hours to get to the hospital after the first stroke symptoms. Most treatments must be given within 3 to 6 hours of the first stroke symptoms, so hundreds of thousands of Americans are missing out on stroke treatment opportunities every year."

But not everyone is comfortable with leaving out that other 20 percent of strokes. The American Academy of Neurology, the American College of Emergency Physicians, and the American Stroke Association have teamed up to form the Stroke Collaborative, a joint campaign for stroke awareness. This month, the Stroke Collaborative is promoting a new way, Give Me 5 for Stroke, to remember stroke warning signs

Walk: Is their balance off?

Talk: Is their speech slurred or face droopy?

Reach: Is one side weak or numb?

See: Is their vision all or partially lost?

Feel: Is their headache severe?

If any of these stroke symptoms occurs suddenly, call 911.

According to the Stroke Collaborative's website, "Stroke warning signs are missing from (Act F.A.S.T.), and since a person may only experience one symptom, it is important that all symptoms be remembered and acted upon quickly."

So which mnemonic is better? "Give Me 5 for Stroke" strikes me as difficult to remember, but I also find the failure of "Act F.A.S.T." to encompass all stroke symptoms troubling. Which are you planning to post on your refrigerator -- and why?

Photo by flickr user desi.italy used under the Creative Commons attribution license.