BEFAST: The Acronym That Can Save Lives

Courtesy Centre for Neuro Skills -- The BEFAST acronym stands for Balance, Eyes, Face, Arms, Speech and Time. If the first five appear, it’s time call 911.
Courtesy Centre for Neuro Skills -- The BEFAST acronym stands for Balance, Eyes, Face, Arms, Speech and Time. If the first five appear, it’s time call 911.

BEFAST: The Acronym That Can Save Lives

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, affecting approximately 795,000 people each year. Per the American Stroke Association (ASA), “a stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts (or ruptures).”

Blood and oxygen cannot enter the brain, so brain cells begin to die rapidly at an estimated rate of 1.9 million neurons per minute. That would be 114 million brain cells that die in just one hour of an untreated stroke! Brain cell death is the leading cause of serious long-term disability in stroke, which is why it is important to know how to identify the signs and symptoms of a stroke to get treatment as soon as possible to increase the likelihood of a full recovery.

The acronym BEFAST is used to recognize and determine if a person is having a stroke.
• Balance – Changes in balance, coordination, dizziness, or vertigo. 
• Eyes – Sudden changes in vision such as blindness or loss of peripheral vision.
• Face – Facial droop such as an uneven smile.
• Arm – New onset of weakness in one or both arms with possible numbness and tingling.
• Speech – Slurring of speech or having trouble verbalizing words.
• Time – Call 911 as soon as signs and symptoms are recognized.

A person only needs to have one of these symptoms to suspect a stroke, but multiple symptoms may be present at once. Every person presents differently, so knowing the most common signs of a stroke gives the best chance for recognizing and treating a stroke promptly.

The risk of having a stroke doubles every ten years after age 55. Furthermore, adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 49 in the United States now have a one-in-seven chance of having a stroke. They are more at risk for stroke now than they were years prior due to an increased prevalence of obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes in younger populations in the United States. The good news is that there are preventative measures that can decrease the risk of having a stroke. 

Maintaining a healthy diet and consistent exercise routine is essential for decreasing the risk of having a stroke because high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, and obesity are some of the leading contributors to an increased risk of stroke. The ASA recommends eating a Mediterranean diet or the DASH diet, which is used to help treat or prevent high blood pressure

To learn more about the DASH diet, visit Moreover, refrain from smoking because over time, cigarette smoking can damage the heart by tightening the vessels and making it easier for blood clots to form. It is recommended to speak with a primary care physician during yearly checkups to identify risk factors early so they can be managed to prevent a stroke from occurring.  

Alameda Hospital is a local primary stroke center located just one block from South Shore Center on the corner of Clinton Avenue and Willow Street. If you or a loved one has a stroke, Alameda Hospital is capable of first-line treatment and management. This includes giving TNKase (tenecteplase), a medication that dissolves clots that may be contributing to a person’s stroke.

Medical staff are qualified to treat people affected by a stroke after it has occurred and help them with their recovery.  

Remember the acronym BEFAST and educate others so our community will be aware of the signs and symptoms of a stroke. Time is tissue, so the faster you recognize a stroke, the earlier you can get help and have a more successful recovery.  

Sloane Ruuska is a registered nurse with a bachelor’s in nursing. She is the stroke coordinator at Alameda Hospital.