Treating signs of stroke 'FAST' saves lives, American Heart Association says

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A doctor and an emergency room nurse care for a patient in the ER of Mission Community Hospital on January 28, 2009 in Panorama City, California.

Every four minutes, someone in the United States suffers a fatal stroke. That’s 130,000 deaths every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Strokes are caused by a blockage to the blood supply to the brain or when a blood vessel around it bursts, causing a portion of the brain to become damaged or die.

"The term "stroke" was defined before we knew what it was. It was considered a stroke from God," said Dr. Nerses Sanossian, president of the American Heart Association Greater Los Angeles Division and assistant professor of neurology at USC.

He said during a typical stroke, a persons loses 1.9 million brain cells every minute, making expedient medical care a key to a patients survival and recovery. 

"So if you’re able to reestablish blood flow ten minutes earlier that’s 19 million neurons or brain cells you’ve saved," he said. 

To help spread that message, the American Heart Association is promoting its  “Spot a Stroke FAST” campaign through May.  The acronym wants people to learn the signs of stroke:

  • F for Face drooping;
  • A for Arm weakness or numbness;
  • S for slurred speech/difficulty speaking; and 
  • T for Time to call 9-1-1 

Sanossian said better and faster treatment has allowed more patients to survive strokes. It is the leading cause of long-term disability in the United States.

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