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Act FAST: Know the signs and symptoms of a stroke

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May is National Stroke Awareness month and a time to raise our understanding of the emotional, physical, and financial impact that stroke has on our friends and family.

A stroke causes a loss of function due to an interruption of blood flow to the brain. Those who suffer a stroke usually experience a number of symptoms, which may include sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arms, or legs—especially on one side of the body; confusion; trouble speaking; loss of sight; severe headaches; and loss of balance. Risk factors include hypertension, high cholesterol, obesity, advanced age, gender, and race.

Stroke affects more than 800,000 people each year and ranks among the five leading causes of death and a leading cause of adult disability in the United States. Although a stroke may not be entirely preventable, familiarity with the symptoms of a stroke can prompt you to get help faster, which can make a difference in recovery. Use the acronym FAST to remember the warning signs of a stroke:

F - FACE. Ask the person to smile. Does the face appear crooked or drooping?

A - ARMS. Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?

S - SPEECH. Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Are the words slurred?

T - TIME. Call 9-1-1 immediately if you observe any of these symptoms.

Note the time that any of these symptoms first appear. This information is important to a health care provider and can affect treatment decisions. Read more about stroke treatment.