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Published on May 05, 2014

Missouri Stroke Program Raises F.A.S.T. Awareness

COLUMBIA, Mo. - Rapid identification and treatment of strokes not only saves lives, but can prevent lifelong disabling effects. Specialists with University Hospital's Missouri Stroke Program want to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of stroke to achieve the best possible outcomes. 

"Stroke patients have effective treatment options available to them, but rapid deployment of these options is essential," said Niranjan Singh, M.D., a university neurologist and director of the Missouri Stroke Program at University Hospital. "A clot-busting drug called tPA is one of the best options for treating most strokes.

However, the drug must be administered within three to four-and-a-half hours of the first appearance of signs and symptoms for it to be effective."

Singh suggests use of the acronym F.A.S.T. to easily remember the sudden signs of stroke.

  • F for facial droop - Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile and note if the smile is uneven.
  • A for arm weakness - Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to lift both arms and note if one arm drifts back down.
  • S for speech difficulty - Slurred speech can indicate a possible stroke. Ask the person to say a simple sentence, such as "The grass is green."
  • T for time to call 911 - If someone is exhibiting symptoms consistent with a stroke, even if the symptoms should stop, call 911 to get emergency assistance immediately. Be sure to note the time symptoms began.

According to the American Stroke Association, approximately 800,000 individuals in the United States suffer strokes each year, and stroke is the fourth leading cause of death.

"A stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery or a break in a blood vessel causes an interruption of blood flow to the brain," said Ashish Nanda, M.D., a university neurointerventionalist and co-director of the Missouri Stroke Program. "This interruption cuts off the brain's oxygen supply and destroys brain cells. If the stroke isn't fatal, it can still permanently affect memory, movement and speech."

To treat stroke patients, University Hospital uses a multidisciplinary team comprised of specialists in neurology, neurosurgery, physical therapy, cardiology and emergency services.

"To identify, diagnose and treat the stroke patient quickly, members of our program work together as a cohesive team once the patient arrives at the hospital," said Pradeep Sahota, M.D., director of the sleep disorders program at MU Health Care and chair of the Department of Neurology at the MU School of Medicine. "Rapid evaluation and treatment can make the difference, not only between life and death, but also in terms of quality of life."

Although some strokes are not preventable, lifestyle changes can reduce the chances for someone considered at high risk for stroke. Risk factors that are manageable include:

  • Atrial fibrillation issues such as heart palpitations, dizziness and fluttering or racing sensations in the chest
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Tobacco and excessive alcohol use
  • Physical inactivity
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • Obstructive sleep apnea

"Removing risk factors such as smoking and excessive alcohol use, and leading a healthier, less sedentary lifestyle can reduce the chances of stroke," said Brandi French, MD., a university vascular neurologist.

Additional Missouri Stroke Program team members include Vikas Gupta, M.D., a university neurointerventionalist; Tami Harris, R.N., stroke program coordinator; and Debbie Self, office support staff.

The Missouri Stroke Program has been named to the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association's Target: Stroke Honor Roll. The program also has been certified as an advanced 
primary stroke center by the Joint Commission and has received the Stroke Gold Plus Performance Achievement Award from Get With The Guidelines®, a hospital-based quality improvement programdeveloped by the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association.