Stroke: Think FAST, Act Quick

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts or is blocked. Without blood and the oxygen it carries, part of the brain starts to die. The part of the body controlled by the damaged area of the brain can’t work properly.

Some stroke symptoms include:

  • Sudden numbness, tingling, weakness, or loss of movement in your face, arm, or leg, especially on only one side of your body.
  • Sudden vision changes.
  • Sudden trouble speaking.
  • Sudden confusion or trouble understanding simple statements.
  • Sudden problems with walking or balance.
  • A sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches.

Think FASTFAST-graphic

The easiest way to recognize the stroke warning signs is through the acronym FAST.

  • Face: Sudden weakness or numbness of face – is it drooping or weak on one or both sides?
  • Arm: Sudden weakness or numbness of arm – do they drift down when you ask the person to hold them straight out?
  • Speech: Sudden difficulty speaking – notice the person’s speech – is it difficult for them to talk or for you to understand them?
  • Time: What time did symptoms start? Make sure to seek immediate medical help – every minute counts!

Stroke vs. Mini-Stroke

“There are many people who don’t know what a stroke is, which is unfortunate because it is the 3rd leading cause of death and the leading cause of adult disability in the United States,“ said Jose Fernandez, M.D., a neurologist at Forrest General and Hattiesburg Clinic.

A common misconception that is associated with a stroke is the term “mini stroke.” What people usually mean by that is a TIA, or Transient Ischemic Attack. A transient ischemic attack (TIA) happens when blood flow to part of the brain is stopped for a short time. “The term is often said when the symptoms are mild or temporary, which minimizes the severity of it. TIA happens when an area of the brain didn’t quite die,” said Fernandez.

The reason it is often referred to as a mini-stroke is because symptoms are the same as a stroke, but they don’t last long or cause lasting damage. A patient who has a TIA is at a very high risk of having a stroke, and TIA serves as a warning that you are likely to have a stroke in the future.

Time is of the Essence

When stroke happens, brain cells have already died, but the area around the dead cells can be rescued. “We know that medicine increases the chance of good recovery usually within 3 hours, but to do that you must use the Emergency Department, where they can rescue the rescue-able areas,” said Dr. Fernandez. Calling 911 immediately is the most important thing you can do to help someone who you suspect is having a stroke.

The Role of the Caregiver

When someone suffers a stroke, their family and loved ones play a crucial part in recovery. It’s important for those who will have a role in the process to understand what is happening. Dr. Fernandez said there are several things he tells caregivers about recovery and adapting to life with someone after a stroke:

  1. It often gets worse before it gets better, because the brain was hit and may respond with swelling, which makes it looks like it is getting worse.
  2. Stroke can be life threatening.
  3. If we can get past the swelling, MOST can walk by 6 months.
  4. The biggest breakthrough in recognition is in the first 6 months where cells around the area learn to pull double duty.
  5. By 18 months there is almost no more recovery.
  6. They need their families.
  7. They may be depressed and depression inhibits physical therapy.
  8. There may be other complications such as mood disorder or seizures.
  9. Every stroke is different.

“The stroke patients that receive support from their families and loved ones are very fortunate, as many patients do not have caregivers,” said Dr. Fernandez. The experienced team at Forrest General understands the importance of caring and compassion in the recovery of stroke patients, and works hard to assist patients with every part of stroke treatment, from the moment they enter the ER, through the rehabilitation process. To learn more about the area’s only certified stroke center at Forrest General, visit


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