FAST is an acronym for quickly remembering the symptoms of a stroke. It is more frequently used in Australia than in the United States, but a 2007 episode of the medical drama House featured the concept. It’s an excellent acronym to remember because early treatment of stroke is essential to reducing brain damage and mortality associated with stroke.
The acronym is fairly loose, and the letters only correlate to a few symptoms of stroke. These are facial paralysis, arm weakness, and speech difficulties. The “T” is often translated as “time to act fast,” although others interpret it as “test all symptoms.” The first interpretation is used by the Stroke Foundation of Australia, and for most laypeople, it’s probably best to remember the first definition. It is definitely essential to act quickly by contacting emergency services if a stroke is suspected.
Each letter deserves a little further explanation. Facial paralysis is a common symptom of stroke, and asking the person to smile can easily test this. If he cannot smile, or if his mouth appears to droop on one side, this indicates possible stroke. A person experiencing a stroke may also have difficulty swallowing.
The “A" stands for arm weakness. One arm or leg may be paralyzed or more difficult to move. To quickly test for this, the person with suspected stroke can be asked to raise both arms. If the person can only raise one, or if the arms cannot be raised to the same level, a stroke is a possible cause.
“S” is for speech difficulties, since people who have just suffered a stroke may have slurred or incomprehensible speech. A massive stroke can translate quickly to inability to speak. Asking a person a few questions can normally determine whether he has this symptom.
"Time to act fast" means it’s important to seek medical attention immediately, while "test all symptoms" means it’s helpful to be able to tell emergency workers if a stroke is suspected. FAST exams should be performed after 911 is called. Alternately, if two people are with the person having the stroke, one can call emergency services while the other performs the exam.
Additional symptoms of stroke are quite common and are not covered by the acronym. These include dizziness or loss of balance and severe, sudden headache. It’s also important for people to realize that not all strokes will exhibit all symptoms. Presence of even one of these symptoms may indicate stroke, but also may indicate totally unrelated conditions. The goal is to check for common symptoms, so a person can report possible indicators of stroke to medical workers as quickly as possible.
Another term that's also commonly abbreviated as FAST is "focused assessment with sonography for trauma." This is a type of ultrasound done to test for pools of blood in four areas of the body: the space between the liver and the right kidney, the space around the spleen, the space around the heart, and the open area of the pelvis. It is sometimes extended to include the area around the lungs. This is usually done when a patient is brought in to an emergency room after a traumatic injury.