ACT FAST: Awareness is Key to Stroke Prevention

Published: May 11, 2023
Melody Berg
By Melody Berg, PharmD, MPH, BCPS

More than 795,000 people in the United States experience a stroke every year, and 75% of these are first-time strokes. Understanding the signs and symptoms of a stroke can help save lives and decrease the chance of long-term disability or death.

What is a stroke?
There are two main types of stroke, also known as a cerebrovascular accident (CVA).

An ischemic stroke, which accounts for 87% of all strokes, occurs when a clot blocks the flow of blood through the vessels to a particular part of the brain.

A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a vessel in the brain ruptures, spilling blood into the surrounding brain. In both cases, certain regions of brain tissue are damaged and die.

Weakened blood vessels in the brain are generally the result of a ruptured aneurysm or arteriovenous malformation (AVM). An AVM is a cluster of abnormally formed blood vessels, whereas an aneurysm is the ballooning of a weakened area of a blood vessel.

Who is at risk for a stroke?
Although strokes occur more often in older adults, anyone at any age can have a stroke. Stroke occurs in just 6,000 newborns and children annually, but it is considered one of the top 10 causes of death among children.

The reason why stroke happens in some people, particularly those due to AVMs or aneurysms, is not well understood. However, certain factors have been shown to increase individual stroke risk. These factors include:

High blood pressure

Excessive alcohol use

Heart disease

Illegal drug use


Abnormal heart rhythm


Damaged heart valves

Use of birth control pills


History of transient ischemic attacks (TIAs) (“mini-strokes”)

History of prior stroke

High red blood cell count

Family history of stroke

High cholesterol


Lack of exercise




What are the symptoms of a stroke? How can I tell if someone is having a stroke?
Since strokes can happen to anyone at any age, it’s important for everyone to recognize the signs and symptoms and to get a patient help as soon as possible to prevent long-term negative effects from the stroke and death. The acronym for identifying symptoms of a stroke is B.E.F.A.S.T.:

Balance (watch for a sudden loss of balance)
Eyes (check for vision loss)
Face (Look for an uneven smile)
Arms (Check if one arm is weak)
Speech (Listen for slurred speech)
Time (Call 9-1-1 right away)

How can your pharmacist help you?
Pharmacists can help educate you about the signs and symptoms of stroke, talk about your risk factors and what you can do to reduce your risk, and talk to you about how to help your loved ones who are dealing with the effects of a stroke. 

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