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What is the FAST test for a stroke?

Dr. Louis J. Durkin, MD
Emergency Medicine Specialist

FAST is an acronym for a test developed by the American Stroke Association to recognize stroke:

  • (F) Face: Is the person experiencing numbness or paralysis on one side of the face?
  • (A) Arms: Can he or she raise both arms to an equal height?
  • (S) Speech: Can you understand the person's speech?
  • (T) Time: Call 911 as soon as you notice slurred speech or weakness/numbness on one side of the body.

Stroke occurs when a blood clot or ruptured blood vessel prevents oxygen from reaching the brain, and it often strikes suddenly. Two million brain cells die every minute when the brain is deprived of oxygen. The quicker someone gets medical attention, the less damage occurs.

FAST is an acronym used to educate the public and to help us all remember what to look for if we think someone is having a stroke. The “F” stands for face. That means when asking a person to smile, you should pay attention to any asymmetry in their face. The “A” stands for arms. So, ask them to hold up both of their arms and see if one side drifts down or is not quite as high as the other side. The “S” stands for speech. Post-stroke speech is either slurring of words or difficulty coming up with the appropriate word. The “T” stands for time, as in, if you notice any of the first three things, it's time to call 911. Time is very critical because every minute a person has a blockage in the blood vessel, they’re losing 1.9 million brain cells.

If you think someone else may be having a stroke, the National Stroke Association recommends to act FAST with this simple test:

  • Face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
  • Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Are the words slurred? Can he or she repeat the sentence correctly?
  • Time: If the person shows any of these symptoms, time is important. Call 911 or get to the hospital fast. Brain cells are dying.
Dr. Jeffrey L. Saver, MD
Neurologist

F.A.S.T. is an easy way to remember the sudden signs of stroke. When you can spot the signs, you'll know that you need to call 9-1-1 for help right away. F.A.S.T. is:

  • F = Face Drooping – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person's smile uneven?
  • A = Arm Weakness – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • S = Speech Difficulty – Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like "The sky is blue." Is the sentence repeated correctly?
  • 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. Check the time so you'll know when the first symptoms occurred.
Dr. Kathleen Handal, MD
Emergency Medicine Specialist

The FAST test (Face, Arms, Speech, Time) can be performed to help recognize stroke symptoms:  

  • Face: Ask the person to smile. If one side droops, it may be a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or stroke.
  • Arms: Ask the person to hold out both arms in front of the body. If one arm droops, it may be a TIA or stroke.
  • Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. If speech is slurred or garbled, or other errors occur, it may be a stroke or TIA.
  • Time: If any of these happens, call for medical help. Ask for the nearest stroke center hospital.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.