BE FAST — Learn the Signs of Stroke

signs of a stroke

A Stoughton Health nurse and clinical quality specialist discusses the signs of stroke and how to act quickly if you suspect you or a loved one is having a stroke.

What is a Stroke?

Rhonda Tesmer, a nurse at Stoughton Health and a clinical quality specialist, explains that we should think about stroke by comparing it to a heart attack.

“Most people understand what a heart attack is, and I think it may be informative if we think of stroke as a brain attack,” says Tesmer.

Types of Stroke

An ischemic stroke occurs when the flow of blood to the brain is blocked. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts.

In both cases, parts of the brain can become damaged or die. A stroke can cause lasting brain damage, long-term disability or even death. According to Tesmer, about 87% of all strokes are ischemic strokes where the blood flow is blocked.

While it’s important to stress that the risk for having a stroke increases as we get older, you can have a stroke at any age.


It’s critical to know the signs of stroke. Time equals brain lost, because brain cells can die without the flow of oxygenated blood. The acronym BE FAST can be helpful in remembering stroke signs and symptoms.

  • B stands for balance, a sudden onset of dizziness or loss of balance or coordination.
  • E stands for eyes, trouble seeing out of one or both eyes.
  • F stands for face, facial weakness with a droop or an uneven smile.
  • A is for arm, being unable to raise both arms evenly.
  • S is for speech, if the speech is impaired, slurred or there is difficulty repeating a simple phrase.
  • T is for a sudden onset of a terrible headache.
  • T also stands for “time to call an ambulance now.”

Call 911

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately and tell the operator this is a possible stroke. Calling 911 helps ensure that you receive the quickest treatment and diagnosis.

In the ER, medical professionals will do a very quick assessment and perform a CT scan on the patient as rapidly as possible. The CT scan will help determine the type of stroke and the best course of treatment.

If there is no evidence of a hemorrhagic stroke or a brain bleed, the patient may be treated with the clot-busting drug tissue plasminogen activator, or TPA.

Reduce Your Risk

Everyone can work to reduce stroke risk.

Tesmer suggests, “working with your primary care provider and identifying your risks, staying compliant with your medication if you have high blood pressure or elevated cholesterol, and be active. There’s so much that you can do to reduce your stroke risk.”

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