BE FAST: How to spot warning signs, symptoms of a stroke

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PETERSBURG, Va. -- Doctors at Southside Reginal Medical Center say knowing the symptoms of a stroke and how to respond can help save a life, even your own.

The sudden death of actor Luke Perry after suffering a massive stroke has reignited the conversation about strokes and what symptoms to look out for.

A stroke occurs when your brain is not getting the blood it needs. A hemorrhagic stroke takes place when excessive bleeding is present in or around the brain. Ischemic strokes, which account for about 87 percent of all cases, happen when the brain does not get enough oxygen-rich blood, according to doctors at SRMC in Petersburg.

Each year, nearly 800,000 people in the United States have a stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 1 of 4 are people who have had a previous stroke.

African-American men are at greater risk of having a stroke than any other group of men in the United States, according to the CDC. People age 55 or older are also at a higher risk of stroke.

Doctors say stoke warning signs occur suddenly. Symptoms include:

  • Numbness or weakness in the face, arm or leg – often on one side of the body.
  • Confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech.
  • Trouble seeing with one or both eyes.
  • Trouble walking, dizziness or loss of balance or coordination.
  • Severe headache with no known cause.

Doctors say the most important part of avoiding a stroke-related death is to B.E. F.A.S.T.

The BE FAST acronym is a reminder to look for Balance loss, Eyesight reduced, Face drooping, Arm weakness, Slurred speech – Time to call 9-1-1.

If the answer to any of the questions is yes, doctors say call 911 immediately and write down the time when symptoms started. Experts warn, do not drive, ambulance services are trained to provide initial treatments and contact the hospital in route.

SRMC is certified by The Joint Commission as an Advanced Primary Stroke Center.

The emergency room staff call a special “STROKE ALERT” when a stroke patient arrives, speeding diagnosis and treatment and improving the chance for a full recovery.

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