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Suspect a Stroke? Remember to “BE FAST”

Last updated: May 17, 2023

The quicker stroke treatment begins, the more it can help prevent permanent brain damage, and possibly lead to better outcomes for the patient.

Dr. Thomas Mattio, Medical Director, ThedaCare Stroke Program

Nearly 800,000 Americans suffer strokes each year, making them one of the leading causes of death and disability. May is Stroke Awareness Month, with an emphasis on helping people recognize the symptoms of a stroke and know what to do if they or someone around them exhibits such symptoms.

“A stroke happens when blood flow to the brain is interrupted,” says Dr. Thomas Mattio a neurologist with Neuroscience Group and medical director of the ThedaCare Stroke Program. “That can happen because of a blood clot, a blocked artery or a brain bleed. Brain cells begin to die almost immediately when deprived of blood flow, which is why time is of the essence in treating a stroke patient.”

Act Quickly

Stroke emergency awareness and recognition signs, medical procedure infographic
Stroke emergency awareness and recognition signs, medical procedure infographic

The BE FAST acronym can help people remember the symptoms of a stroke:

  • B — Balance: Sudden loss of balance or coordination
  • E — Eyes: Sudden blurred, double or lost vision
  • F — Face: Drooping or numbness of the face
  • A — Arms: Weakness or numbness in arms or legs on one side of the body
  • S — Speech: Slurred speech — unable to speak or difficult to understand
  • T — Time: If you see any of these signs, call 911 right away

If you or a loved one are experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s critical to get care immediately. Dr. Mattio stressed it’s important to call 911 as opposed to driving the patient to the hospital.

“Emergency medical technicians can interact with hospital personnel and begin assessment and treatment while on the way to the hospital,” he says. “The quicker stroke treatment begins, the more it can help prevent permanent brain damage, and possibly lead to better outcomes for the patient.”

Stroke Prevention

When it comes to stroke, there are some risk factors you can influence and some you can’t.

These attributes put you at higher risk of stroke:

  • Age: The older you are, the more likely you are to have a stroke. The chance of having a stroke about doubles every 10 years after age 55. Although stroke is common among older adults, many people younger than 65 years also have strokes.
  • Sex: Stroke is more common in women than men, and women of all ages are more likely than men to die from stroke. Pregnancy and use of birth control pills pose special stroke risks for women.
  • Race or ethnicity: People who are Black, Hispanic, American Indian and Native Alaskan may be more likely to have a stroke than non-Hispanic Whites or Asians. The risk of having a first stroke is nearly twice as high for Black individuals as for White individuals. Black people are also more likely to die from stroke than White people are.

You can influence these risk factors that put you at higher risk for stroke:

  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • High blood pressure
  • Other health conditions including diabetes and atrial fibrillation

“One of the top myths about strokes is that you can’t do anything to stop them,” Dr. Mattio says. “It’s clear we all can do things to help reduce our likelihood of having a stroke. Those include losing weight, quitting smoking, drinking less alcohol, exercising regularly and controlling our blood pressure.”

The Stroke Recovery Foundation (SRF) estimates that 80% of strokes are preventable through lifestyle changes. In addition to Dr. Mattio’s suggestions, the SRF recommends:

  • Having an annual physical and discussing all health concerns with your provider
  • Considering carotid artery screening
  • Keeping diabetes under control
  • Attending to atrial fibrillation

Not Just Older Individuals

There’s also a myth that only elderly people suffer strokes, Dr. Mattio says. However, the ASA reports that 30% of those who suffer strokes are younger than age 65.

“Unfortunately, younger people tend to dismiss the idea that their condition could be a stroke, which can delay treatment and cause greater brain damage,” Dr. Mattio says.

The tendency to have a stroke can also run in families.

“If your parents, siblings or other close relatives have suffered strokes, you may be at a greater risk,” Dr. Mattio says. “React proactively if you have stroke symptoms. Don’t hesitate to seek treatment. And remember, knowledge is power.”

More than 40% of stroke patients may experience transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) — a type of mini stroke — up to a week before they have a major stroke.

“If you experience brief episodes of slurred speech, sudden weakness in an arm or leg or facial drooping, contact your provider as soon as possible,” Dr. Mattio says. “Please don’t ignore those symptoms.”

Stroke Treatment

There are several effective treatments for strokes, including drugs that can dissolve clots and surgical procedures that can remove blockages or repair hemorrhagic bleeding in the brain.

“These procedures can reduce the effect of strokes and lower the level of disability a person might experience,” Dr. Mattio says. “Time is of the essence. We want to treat a stroke patient as quickly as possible. That’s why it’s so important to call 911 and get immediate medical intervention.”

All seven ThedaCare hospitals have received stroke care accreditation from DNV GL – Healthcare, including recertification for ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah as a Comprehensive Stroke Center.

A Comprehensive Stroke Center accreditation is the highest level of competence for treatment of serious stroke events. The Comprehensive Stroke Center at ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah has partnerships with first responders and rural hospitals. It offers round-the-clock acute care. The stroke team also provides virtual consultation to patients at ThedaCare Critical Access Hospitals to determine the correct care needed.

ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Appleton is accredited as a Primary Stroke Center. According to DNV GL – Healthcare, this certification goes to hospitals that have the necessary staffing, infrastructure and programs to stabilize and treat most emergent stroke patients.

ThedaCare Critical Access Hospitals in Berlin, New London, Shawano, Waupaca and Wild Rose have all earned Acute Stroke Ready certifications, also from DNV GL – Healthcare.

With this certification, smaller and rural hospitals must demonstrate excellence by complying with standards of care for the initial treatment of stroke patients, when rapid action and proper medications can save lives and limit the long-term disabling effects of strokes.

“With strokes, the quicker a person gets to a hospital, the more treatment options we have available to us, potentially leading to better outcomes,” Dr. Mattio says. “It’s critical that our community members have access to certified stroke care, and higher levels of care if necessary.”

For more information about strokes and care options available, please visit:

Staying on top of annual wellness visits can help you manage health risks

Tags: National Stroke Awareness Month neurology Stroke

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