FLORENCE, S.C. – It’s important to BE FAST if you think you or a loved one might be having a stroke. Each year, more than 795,000 people are affected by stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Just about everyone by now has heard the F-A-S-T acronym branded by the American Stroke Association and other groups. FAST is an effort to help people remember four signs of stroke:

  • “F” – Face drooping.
  • “A” – Arm weakness.
  • “S” – Slurred speech.
  • “T” – Time to act quickly.

Now, health professionals are encouraging people to take it a step further to BE FAST.

Brandon Hooks, RN-ONC director of MUSC Health-Florence Medical Center Stroke, Neurology and Orthopaedics, said many people overlook two more signs:

  • “B” – Balance loss.
  • “E” – Eyesight loss.

“The biggest thing we promote is early recognition – what a stroke looks like,” Hooks said. “We are always looking at our goals and processes to make ourselves better to help people with stroke. A stroke affects certain parts of the body depending on what part of the brain is being affected. Adding the “B” and “E” helps people catch the smaller symptoms people may not have been aware of before. The goal is to help people seek medical help faster if they’re experiencing stroke-like symptoms.”

Wendy Davis, RN-ONC stroke coordinator at MUSC Health-Florence Medical Center, said it’s crucial for people to know stroke symptoms are sudden, not developing over time.

“It doesn’t happen over time,” Davis said. “These are sudden changes in vision, arm weakness, slurred speech or a drooping face, for example. Don’t wait for the symptoms to go away. We would rather you overreact and be safe.”

A stroke, also known as a “brain attack,” happens when blood vessels carrying oxygen to the brain are blocked by plaque or rupture.

“Once you have a stroke, if you don’t get the appropriate medical treatment within a certain time, you could have lifelong irreversible damage. Early recognition and detection helps reduce the possibility of lifelong stroke effects,” Hooks said.

MUSC Health-Florence Medical Center is a designated Primary Stroke Center accredited by The Joint Commission. Hooks said the designation ensures the Stroke Center has demonstrated, to the commission, that there are solid best practices in place that ensure patients are able to receive treatment in a timely manner. Advances in technology now allow a neurologist to assess the patient minutes after they arrive at the hospital. This is possible because there is a 24/7 neurologist available through MUSC Telehealth.

“Within minutes the neurologist can determine if you have an intercranial bleed,” Hooks said. “As part of the stroke treatment process, we have to rule that out first before we can administer tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) medication. The drug is injected to dissolve blood clots and improve blood flow to parts of the brain with blockage.”

Sometimes it’s not possible to administer tPA if a patient takes blood thinning medication, has had any recent vascular or brain surgery or any type of bleeding disorders.

“When you have a stroke, there’s a small window of time you can receive tPA,” Hooks said. “When EMS is called, they assess you and radio in to us so we can activate the stroke alert. This means we will be fully prepared and the stroke team ready when you arrive.”

On May 23, MUSC Health-Florence Medical Center will have educational materials and other resources in the lobby of the main hospital. For more information, call the Stroke Center at 843-674-5473.

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