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First Aid for Strokes: What To Do?

January 21, 2021
Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen
Additions/comments by Neurologist Steve Schadendorf, MD

Here’s the scenario: You exit a popular cafe, fresh coffee in hand, only to witness a fellow pedestrian experiencing what appears to be a health crisis. What do you do? There are typically two ways people may respond to such a crisis: They will either attempt to immediately help (or may be professionally trained to do so), or may just freeze in place, either not knowing what to do, or perhaps simply too afraid to act.


First Aid FAST!


Even if one has never taken a first aid course or has been professionally trained, there are some basic things one can do in certain types of health crises which can be life saving before the paramedics arrive.


Stroke is one health crisis where one doesn’t need CPR/First Aid training to provide life saving care. It’s relatively simple to remember the telltale signs and signals of a possible stroke, even if it’s not initially obvious that someone has suffered a stroke. A common acronym that’s used to help recall those warning signals is FAST.


  • F: F stands for FACE. Does it look like it’s drooping to one side? Has the patient mentioned feeling numbness in it?
  • A: A stands for ARMS. One arm may be numb or unusually weaker than the other one. The patient may not be able to fully raise both arms at the same time–one may remain at a lower level.
  • S: S stands for SPEECH. Their speech may sound slurred or garbled (after determining the person is not drunk or otherwise impaired from any other substance).
  • T: T stands for TIME. This is the most important one! If you witness someone experiencing any of these symptoms, call emergency services right away. Your quick response can be the defining action that saves someone’s life or improves the quality of life that can be expected after a stroke.


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Stroke: B.E. F.A.S.T.

Stroke: B.E. F.A.S.T.

Importance of the timeline


Once you have called for emergency services, it is important that you recall the time in which the symptoms were first noticed. A life-saving treatment called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) that can destroy the blood clots can only be given to the patient a maximum of 4.5 hours after the first symptoms. Endovascular treatment, which is a surgery that can remove the clot or fix an aneurysm can only be done up to 24 hours from the time of the first symptoms. Remembering the time the incident occurred offers the patient more treatment options that can lead to better outcomes. These actions can ultimately save the tissues that are often destroyed when a stroke occurs. Without treatment, it is estimated that 1.9 million neurons are lost each minute during a stroke!


Getting a possible stroke patient to the hospital


It is extremely important that you do not drive the patient to the hospital yourself. A paramedic team can generally get to the scene faster than you can get to the hospital, and they can begin the life-saving treatment right away. Also, a stroke patient experiencing more mild symptoms may not be aware that what they are having is indeed a stroke. They may try to convince you to let them go home and not to call the paramedics. Absolutely do not give in. Worst case scenario, EMTs will determine that it isn’t a stroke, still perform whatever treatments are necessary, and let the patient go home. Giving in to the patient and not calling emergency services could be life threatening.


Next Video >>

Having A Stroke

Having A Stroke

Keep the patient safe and comfortable


Help to make the patient as comfortable as possible and get them away from anything that they may bump into should they lose balance and fall. Comfort them and reassure them that help is on its way. Even if the patient claims to be hungry or thirsty, it is much kinder in this case to not give them anything. They may be unaware that they are not able to swallow properly. This could cause them to choke. Even without any official medical training, you can still help a bystander who may be experiencing a stroke. Your immediate actions can help save a life.

Doctor Profile

Steve Schadendorf, MD

Founding Medical Partner

Dr. Schadendorf is a board certified neurologist who specializes in vascular neurology at Bass Medical Group. Dr. Schadendorf is a Founding Medical Partner and Medical Director of the Neuromedicine Channel at Doctorpedia.

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