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UPMC Expert: Minutes Matter in Stroke Emergencies

Every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. has a stroke, and unfortunately, every three and a half minutes someone dies of stroke. A victim can lose up to two million brain cells every minute during a stroke, but immediate care helps reduce the stroke’s impact and most importantly can save that person’s life.

If you think that you or a loved one is having a stroke, remember the acronym BE FAST.
• Balance – Does the person have a sudden loss of balance?
• Eyes – Has the person lost vision in one or both eyes?
• Face – Does the person’s face look uneven or appear to droop?
• Arms – Is one arm weak or numb?
• Speech – Is the person’s speech slurred? Does the person have trouble speaking or seem confused?
• Time – Call 911 NOW!

What To Do

If any of these symptoms arise, do not hesitate to call 911 right away. Rapid treatment is proven to lead to a better recovery; time is precious from the moment stroke symptoms appear.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), patients who arrive at an emergency department within three hours of their first symptoms often have less disability three months after a stroke than those who received delayed care.

A CDC survey also stated that 93% of respondents recognized sudden numbness on one side as a symptom of stroke, but only 38% were aware of all the other major symptoms and knew to call 911.

Ultimately, the chances of survival are greater when emergency treatment starts immediately.

Why Strokes Happen

A stroke most often occurs when blood flow to the brain becomes blocked. This blockage may be caused by the following:
• A build-up of fatty substances along an artery’s inner lining causing it to narrow, reduce its elasticity, and decreases its blood flow.
• A clot forms in an artery supplying blood to the brain.
• A clot forms somewhere in the body — often the heart — and breaks free, traveling to an artery supplying blood to the brain and becoming lodged there.
• A broken blood vessel that bleeds into or around the brain.

Doctors will diagnose stroke with neurological exams, blood tests, and other tests to determine the cause, location, and amount of damage.

Stroke Prevention

The best way to prevent a stroke is to become aware of the risks and to try to minimize them.

Maintain a healthy weight by exercising regularly and eating more fruits and vegetables than salts and fats. Refrain from smoking and drink alcohol in moderation. Check your blood pressure frequently and follow your health care provider’s recommendations for keeping it in a safe range. Certain medical conditions or genetic factors can increase the risk of stroke. Talk to your physician to find out if you are at risk.

Cynthia K. Anderson, MSN, RN
Quality, UPMC

Cynthia K. Anderson, MSN, RN, is the stroke coordinator of UPMC in North Central Pa. To learn more, go to