Researchers Develop Stroke Symptom Mnemonic for Spanish-Speakers

Doctor consulting an older patient.

Eva-Katalin / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • There is currently no public-facing memory device in Spanish for stroke symptoms to watch for.
  • The RAPIDO memory tool hopes to receive funding to roll out to hospitals and Spanish-speaking community spaces.

When someone is having a stroke, time is of the essence before irreparable damage occurs. Many utilize the acronym FAST as a way to recognize early stroke symptoms. But what if you speak Spanish?

Researchers at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) have developed a tool they hope will help.


FAST is a mnemonic device used to recognize the signs of a stroke and stress the importance of quick emergency care. It stands for facial drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulties, and time.

While this mnemonic device's brevity is ideal, when translated to Spanish, it is much less clear. To solve this issue, a team of researchers, led by Jennifer Beauchamp, PhD, RN, associate professor in the department of research at Cizik School of Nursing in Texas, created RAPIDO as a Spanish language equivalent. Their acronym recently won first place at the International Neuroscience Nursing Research Symposium.

RAPIDO stroke device.

Courtesy of the University of Texas System

RAPIDO stands for:

  • R: Rostro caído (fallen face)
  • A: Actuar confuso (acting confused)
  • P: Pérdida de fuerza en un brazo o pierna (loss of strength in arm or leg)
  • I: Impedimento visual (visual impairment)
  • D: Dificultad para hablar (difficulty speaking)
  • O: Obtenga ayuda RAPIDO, llame al 911 (get help fast, call 911)

Spanish Dialects Offer Challenges

One of the researchers on the team, Tahani Casameni-Montiel, BBA, a research coordinator at Cizik School of Nursing, tells Verywell that the diversity within the group helped shape the acronym from the start.

"The first thing we did was research if there was something outside the U.S. that did this, but there isn't," Casameni-Montiel says. "Our team is diverse, and we have a few different people from different countries, so we all speak Spanish a little differently, so that helps."

The team is still fine-tuning RAPIDO to make sure that it is easy to understand in various Spanish dialects. To that end, they are seeking funding to put RAPIDO through surveys to gauge its effectiveness and to eventually roll it out in hospital settings and community spaces.

What This Means For You

Knowing the signs of stroke can mean the difference between life and death. Memorize FAST or RAPIDO so that you can recognize stroke indicators in yourself or others. And don't wait to get help if you find yourself experiencing any of the symptoms like facial drooping or slurred speech. Head to the ER for evaluation as soon as you can.

An Urgent Need for Awareness

"Some data suggests that by 2030, the prevalence of strokes in Hispanic males is projected to increase 29%," Casameni-Montiel says.

Fernando Testai, MD, PhD, FAHA, director of vascular neurology at the University of Illinois, Chicago, tells Verywell that Hispanic people are also more likely to ignore early symptoms.

"Stroke doesn't really present as pain," Testai says. "It's not as intuitive as chest pain. When you have chest pain, you don't think twice. You go to the ER or call your doctor. Many people experience stroke symptoms early in the morning, and they think it's the way they slept."

Early Detection Is Essential to Survival

This dismissal of symptoms rapidly pushes stroke victims from an early window of detection—where damage can be mitigated—to late detection, where little can be done to correct brain damage and can sometimes result in death.

"We have a relatively short period of time to work on the stroke or try to abort the effects of it, and that window closes very quickly," Testai says. "It's also true that if you come early in the window, the outcome is very different than if you come late. That's where Hispanics struggle. When they come to the hospital, it's too late."

Crossing the language barrier is essential to prevent this, Testai adds. The new RAPIDO protocol may not be as efficient as FAST, but it's a step in the right direction.

Casameni-Montiel says that the team hopes to disseminate RAPIDO to hospitals, clinics, and other spaces where Hispanics consume media, with the long-term goal of spreading the tool to an international audience.

By Rachel Murphy
Rachel Murphy is a Kansas City, MO, journalist with more than 10 years of experience.