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How To Recognize And Respond to a Stroke

Every year, strokes strike millions worldwide, often leading to severe disability or even death.

Stroke statistics (from

  • Every 40 seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke. Every 3 minutes and 14 seconds, someone dies of stroke.
  • Every year, more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke. About 610,000 of these are first or new strokes.
  • About 185,000 strokes—nearly 1 in 4—are in people who have had a previous stroke.2
  • Stroke is a leading cause of serious long-term disability.2 Stroke reduces mobility in more than half of stroke survivors age 65 and older.2

This staggering reality highlights not just the severity of a stroke but also the critical importance of recognizing its symptoms quickly.

Why is it important to treat a stroke as soon as possible?

While technology and telestroke services can expedite stroke care once in the hospital, recognizing a stroke and getting them to the hospital as fast as possible is of the utmost importance.

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of your brain is interrupted or reduced, depriving brain tissue of oxygen and nutrients. Within minutes, brain cells begin to die.

The phrase ‘Time is brain’ emphasizes the urgent need for quick action. Rapid medical attention can minimize brain damage and increase the chance of a full recovery. This is where the B.E.F.A.S.T. method (discussed in detail below)  becomes an invaluable tool, helping to quickly and accurately recognize the warning signs of a stroke and serving as a simple yet effective guide for everyone.

The B.E.F.A.S.T. Method Explained

BEFAST Stroke Identification

The B.E.F.A.S.T. method provides a straightforward way to quickly assess someone for possible stroke symptoms. It’s a mnemonic that stands for Balance, Eyes, Face, Arms, Speech, and Time – each representing a key symptom to watch for. Let’s break it down:

B – Balance

One of the early signs of a stroke can be a sudden loss of balance or coordination. This might manifest as an unexplained stumble, difficulty walking straight, or sudden dizziness. To test for balance issues, ask the person to walk in a straight line or stand still with their eyes closed. If they are unable to do so without swaying or falling, it could be a sign of a stroke.

E – Eyes

Strokes can also affect vision. This may include blurred vision, double vision, or a sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes. Test for vision problems by asking the person to read something with each eye separately, or to describe an object placed at various distances. Any sudden change in vision, particularly if it occurs in one eye, should be taken seriously.

F – Face

Facial drooping is a common stroke symptom. It’s usually noticeable when one side of the face seems to sag or becomes numb. You can perform a simple ‘smile test’ by asking the person to smile or show their teeth. If one side of the face doesn’t move as well as the other, it could indicate a stroke.

A – Arms

Arm weakness or numbness is another critical sign. This can be checked with an ‘arm raise test’. Ask the person to raise both arms and keep them there. If one arm begins to fall or cannot be raised at all, this may be a sign of a stroke.

S – Speech

Slurred speech or difficulty in understanding speech can indicate a stroke. Simple speech tests include asking the person to repeat a simple sentence or phrase. If their speech is slurred, garbled, or they’re unable to speak, it’s a red flag.

T – Time

The final element of the B.E.F.A.S.T. acronym is perhaps the most crucial – Time. If you notice any of the above symptoms, note the time they first appeared. This information is vital for healthcare professionals as certain treatments for stroke are most effective if given within a specific time frame after symptoms start.

Understanding and remembering the B.E.F.A.S.T. method is crucial. Quick recognition and response can significantly influence the outcome of a stroke, potentially saving a life and reducing long-term disability.

Immediate Actions to Take After Recognizing Stroke Symptoms

Once you’ve identified potential stroke symptoms using the B.E.F.A.S.T. method, immediate action is crucial. Here’s what you need to do:

Call Emergency Services Immediately
  • Why It’s Essential Not to Wait: Time is a critical factor in stroke treatment. The longer the brain is deprived of blood flow, the greater the damage. Treatments for stroke are most effective when administered as soon as possible after the onset of symptoms. That’s why calling for medical help immediately is vital.
  • What to Tell the Dispatcher: Be clear and concise. Inform them that you suspect a stroke and describe the symptoms you’ve observed using the B.E.F.A.S.T. method. Mention the time when the symptoms first appeared. This information can help the medical team prepare the necessary treatment even before they arrive.
While Waiting for Help
  • Keeping the Person Calm and Comfortable: A person experiencing a stroke may feel scared and confused. Speak calmly, reassure them that help is on the way, and make them as comfortable as possible.
  • Positioning and Safety Measures: If the person is lying down, raise their head slightly. This position can help with breathing and blood flow. If they are at risk of vomiting, gently turn their head to the side to prevent choking.
  • What NOT to Do: Do not give the person anything to eat or drink, as swallowing ability might be compromised. Avoid moving them unnecessarily, as this could cause further harm. Don’t give them any medication unless instructed by a healthcare professional.

Prevention and Preparedness

How to prevent a stroke infographic

Preventing a stroke is as important as knowing how to react to one. Here are ways to reduce risk and prepare for a potential stroke situation:

Reducing Stroke Risk

  • Lifestyle Changes: Adopting a healthy lifestyle is the first line of defense against stroke. This includes:
  • Diet: Eat a balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Limit intake of saturated fats, cholesterol, and sodium.
  • Exercise: Regular physical activity helps maintain a healthy weight, lowers blood pressure, and improves overall cardiovascular health.
  • Managing Medical Conditions: Conditions like hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes, and high cholesterol significantly increase stroke risk. Regular check-ups, taking prescribed medications, and managing these conditions effectively can help lower stroke risk.

Being Prepared

  • Learning CPR and Basic First Aid: In some stroke cases, a person may become unconscious or experience breathing difficulties. Knowing CPR and basic first aid can be life-saving.
  • Keeping Emergency Numbers Accessible: Have a list of emergency contacts readily available. This should include local emergency services, your doctor’s number, and contacts of close family members or friends.
Conclusion: The Power of Knowledge and Quick Action

In conclusion, understanding the B.E.F.A.S.T. method and knowing the immediate actions to take are crucial in dealing with a stroke. Quick recognition and response can significantly improve the chances of recovery and reduce the severity of long-term effects. But prevention is equally important. By making healthy lifestyle choices and managing medical conditions, you can reduce your risk of stroke.

Share this knowledge with your friends and family. Educating others about stroke symptoms, the B.E.F.A.S.T. method, and how to respond can make a huge difference. Remember, in a stroke situation, every second counts. Your preparedness and quick action could save a life.