Know the Symptoms of Stroke by Remembering FAST

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If you are among the millions of Americans who are not yet familiar with the symptoms of stroke, here is a quick and easy way to learn how to recognize a stroke if it ever happens to you or to someone you know. Just remember the word “FAST,” as recommended by the National Stroke Association.


Think FAST With a Stroke

What FAST Means

Each one of the first three letters in FAST stands for a word that you can use to recognize a symptom of stroke. The last letter...well, read on. Here is what each letter stands for, and how it can help you get someone with a stroke the appropriate treatment, FAST:

  • F = Face: Ask the person to smile. If one side of the face appears crooked or drooping, the person may be having a stroke. A stroke usually causes weakness of the body or face. If you see that someone’s face is uneven, that may be a sign of stroke, which is a medical emergency. Don’t ignore it—call for emergency help.
  • A = Arms: Ask the person to lift both of their arms in the air. If they have difficulty with one arm, this too might be a sign that this person is having a stroke. One of the most obvious signs of a stroke is a weakness on one side of the body. People may drop things or might obviously look slumped over. Because many people who experience a stroke are not fully aware of what is going or are not fully conscious, it is important for you to take the initiative in getting help if anyone seems to have suddenly become weak on one side of the body.
  • S = Speech: Ask the person to speak. If their words are slurred or they are unable to speak, they might be having a stroke. People having a stroke might have trouble speaking clearly, using the correct words, or understanding words. If you are with someone and they suddenly have problems communicating, do not brush it off. Get medical attention for them right away.
  • T = Time: If any of the above symptoms are present, you must call 911 immediately in order to make sure that this person reaches the hospital fast. Time is of the essence in the medical treatment of a stroke. After a stroke occurs, there is no way to repair the brain injury that has already occurred, and this leads to permanent disability or death. When a stroke patient arrives at the hospital soon after symptoms start, however, emergency medical therapy can be given to prevent or lessen the damage, giving them a better chance of survival and a healthy recovery with less disability.

Whats the rush? tPA is a potent treatment for ischemic stroke, but it is not effective unless it is given within three hours of the onset of stroke symptoms. In the case of a hemorrhagic stroke, endovascular procedures and medications may be helpful.

Most people who could benefit from this and other powerful treatments wait too long to call for help and end up missing the time window for treatment. Don’t let this happen to you or your loved ones. Educate yourself and others about stroke before it strikes and be prepared to act fast.

Of course, diagnosing a stroke requires a medical professional. But recognizing whether something might be a stroke is an essential part of getting urgent medical attention. In some cities, mobile stroke units can get stroke patients diagnosed and treated faster.

The sooner someone with a stoke gets medical attention, the better the outcome. But that can’t happen if the person who could be experiencing a stroke or people who are around don’t notice and call for emergency help quickly. If you recognize a stroke, you can save someone’s life.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Stroke Association. Stroke symptoms.

  2. Powers WJ, Rabinstein AA, Ackerson T, et al. 2018 Guidelines for the early management of patients with acute ischemic stroke: a guideline for healthcare professionals from the American Heart Association/American Stroke AssociationStroke. 2018;49(3):e46-e110. doi:10.1161/STR.0000000000000158

  3. American Stroke Association. What is an arteriovenous malformation.

By Jose Vega MD, PhD
Jose Vega MD, PhD, is a board-certified neurologist and published researcher specializing in stroke.