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Get to Know the FAST Protocol

Get to Know the FAST Protocol

Strokes are a serious and sometimes fatal condition. They happen when blood flow to your brain is interrupted. When your brain cells stop receiving oxygen, they die, leading to brain death and, in severe cases, death.

The good news is that strokes can be treated if they’re caught quickly. Clot-busting medications can help treat the blood clot that’s blocking blood flow to your brain, but they work best if administered within 4.5 hours of your symptoms. Learning how to spot the earliest of signs of strokes and knowing when to call 911 can be potentially life-saving. 

That’s why Dr. Henock Saint-Jaques and our team here at Harlem Cardiology created this quick guide to highlight the FAST protocol δΈ€ a simple acronym designed to help you quickly identify the possible signs of a stroke.


FAST is an acronym created by the American Stroke to help people quickly identify the signs of a stroke. FAST stands for facial drooping, arm weakness, speech difficulty, and time to call 911. However, a study published by the University of Kentucky Stroke Center found that if you adhere to the FAST protocol alone, up to 14% of cases of strokes were missed. Researchers found that if you use BE FAST instead of FAST, the missed cases decline sharply down to 4%. The added BE stands for balance and eyes.

Let’s break down the BE FAST protocol further:

B: Balance

Sudden loss of balance and coordination is a warning flag for a stroke. Strokes often cause weakness on one side of your body, and your balance issues can vary from feeling wobbly to struggling to sit up to having trouble standing at all. You may find that you can still walk but can’t lift your feet high enough to take a proper step. 

E: Eyes

There are many reasons why you might experience blurry vision, but a sudden change in vision can be a sign of a stroke. Eye symptoms of a stroke include blurry vision, double vision, and even loss of vision. These symptoms may occur in one or both eyes.

Note: any sudden vision changes should be evaluated immediately. Hypertensive crisis, another medical emergency, can also cause vision issues.

F: Face drooping 

Facial drooping is a common sign of a stroke. Depending on what part of your brain is affected by the stroke, you might notice that one entire half of the face seems to droop, including the eyebrow area, eye, and lips. It may even feel numb. 

If you suspect that a friend or loved one is having a stroke, ask them to smile. If their smile is uneven, it could be a warning sign.

A: Arm weakness

Just as one half of your face may feel numb, so can the muscles on half of your body. Muscle weakness can make it hard to lift your arms or move in general. About 80% of stroke survivors list movement issues as one of the main symptoms.

S: Speech difficulty

The S in FAST stands for speech difficulty, and this can present in a variety of ways. Speech difficulties include:

Speech issues happen because of muscle weakness. If the muscles on one side of your face that you use to speak are weakened, it becomes hard to talk.

T: Time to call 911

The T in the FAST protocol stands for time to call 911. If you notice any of these symptoms, call for emergency help. Don’t attempt to drive yourself or a loved one who’s having a stroke to the hospital. 

Remember: Strokes are best treated within 4.5 hours of the first symptom, but the sooner, the better. Even if you have a tiny suspicion of a stroke, don’t hesitate to call 911.

Treating strokes

Once you or your loved one arrives at the hospital, the number one goal is to restore blood flow to your brain. Depending on your needs, the type of stroke you had, and your overall health, you may receive:

Once the current clot is addressed, Dr. Saint-Jacques and our team may recommend procedures to help prevent future strokes from happening. If you’d like to learn more about strokes, your stroke risk, or potential treatment options, call our Madison Avenue office at 646-381-2181. You can also book an appointment online.

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