When a stroke strikes, each passing minute could mean the difference between life and death—or whether you leave the hospital standing and thinking like your old self. That’s according to a massive study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, that underscores the importance of treating stroke victims quickly.
If you suffer a stroke, for every 15 minutes that pass before doctors address your condition your likelihood of death jumps 4%, shows the research from the University of California, Los Angeles. You’re also 4% less likely to be able to walk when you leave the hospital, 4% more likely to suffer debilitating brain hemorrhages, and 3% less likely to return home (as opposed to a nursing or rehab facility), the UCLA research shows.
Nearly 700,000 people suffer from acute ischemic stroke each year, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). The blockage of blood and oxygen flow to the brain accounts for 87% of all strokes, and is treatable if addressed within 4.5 hours, the AMA says. But while doctors have long known that speed saves lives when it comes to dealing with stroke victims, the UCLA study of more than 50,000 stroke victims is by far the most comprehensive and revealing research to date.
“The brain does not tolerate reduced blood flow and reduced oxygen well,” says study co-author Jeffrey L. Saver, MD, director of UCLA’s Comprehensive Stroke Center. “Every minute that goes by without treatment, 2 million additional nerve cells are lost,” Saver adds.
How can you tell if someone you know is having a stroke? Just remember F.A.S.T., Saver advises. He explains the acronym like this:
F = Face Drooping. During a stroke, one side of the face often sags or feels numb. Ask the person to smile, Saver suggests. If the smile is lopsided or uneven, that’s evidence of a stroke.
A = Arm Weakness. Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward? That’s another warning sign.
S = Speech Difficulty. If speech is slurred or nonsensical, that’s a red flag, Saver explains. He suggests asking the person to repeat a simple sentence like, “The sky is blue.” If the sentence isn’t repeated correctly, that’s another indicator.
T = Time to call 9-1-1. “If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get the person to the hospital immediately,” Saver says. “And check the time so you’ll know when the symptoms first appeared.”