MHLbannersmallThe importance of acting FAST

As coordinated by the National Stroke Association, May is National Stroke Awareness Month. In a gesture somewhere between solidarity and competition, the American Heart Association / American Stroke Association designates May as American Stroke Month.

Either way, it's a good time to increase awareness of stroke and provide information supporting the contention that stroke is largely preventable, treatable and beatable.

strokeRegarding awareness, there seems to be a need in the area of stroke because despite its role as a major cause of death and the leading cause of disability, many Americans still do not think of stroke as a major health concern. A survey conducted a few years ago by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that only 38% of the individuals surveyed correctly identified the symptoms of stroke and knew to call 911 if they suspected a stroke in progress.

This lack of awareness and appropriate action is an area of concern because patients who arrive at the Emergency Department within three hours of their initial symptoms tend to be significantly healthier and less disabled after a stroke than those whose care was delayed.

If an ischemic stroke takes place (caused when a clot blocks blood flow to the brain), getting to a hospital as soon as possible enables medical teams to dissolve the clot through a number of procedures. With hemorrhagic stroke (caused when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures), the faster the individual can receive surgery to prevent re-bleeding, the less likely the chance of serious disability or death.

In either case, the focus of the 2014 National Stroke Awareness Month is increasing public awareness about FAST, an acronym for things to look for in a suspected stroke victim:

F – Face: Does the face droop on one side when the person smiles?
A – Arm: After raising both arms, does one of the arms drift downwards?
S – Speech: After repeating a simple phrase, does the person's speech sound slurred or strange?
T – Time: If any or all of the above are observed call 911.


The National Stroke Association, the American Stroke Association and the CDC are all in agreement that many lives could be saved and many disabilities lessened if this simple but critical reminder is followed.

Stroke isn't just for seniors

One of the other areas emphasized for this year's National Stroke Awareness Month is the growing statistical evidence that older adults aren't the only people who should be concerned about stroke. Studies show that stroke occurrence has risen significantly in younger adults in the 20 to 55 age group, making many more people vulnerable. In fact, a little more than one-third of the people hospitalized for stroke last year were younger than age 65.

The reason behind the increase is generally attributed to a concurrent risk in risk factors like diabetes, obesity and high cholesterol. Other researchers cite changing lifestyles – including hectic schedules and increased stress – as being associated with the increased levels of stroke in younger people. The CDC considers the trend of particular concern in the area of public health because strokes in younger people translate to longer-term lifetime disability.

The good news highlighted by National Stroke Awareness Month

Studies show that up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented through lifestyle changes and your healthcare provider's guidance with regard to reducing personal risk. So along with knowing how to recognize and respond to stroke signs and symptoms, National Stroke Awareness Month is a good time to focus on risk and the changes you may need to make to manage risk effectively.

And a quick thought about treatment

Riverside Regional Medical Center and Riverside Doctors' Hospital Williamsburg are designated by The Joint Commission as Primary Stroke Centers. This designation recognizes the presence of staff, technology and protocols needed to effectively diagnose and treat the most complex stroke cases. Capabilities at RRMC and RDHW also include a highly specialized neuro-interventional team that offers the kind of advanced treatment that can stop a stroke in progress with minimally invasive procedures carried out entirely in the circulatory system.