People Think They Know More about Stroke Warning Signs than They Actually Do According to a New MedStar Health Survey

People Think They Know More About Stroke Warning Signs Than They Actually Do According to a New MedStar Health Survey

Share this

Stroke Awareness Month is a good time to talk about BEFAST, RÁPIDO, and when to call 911.

COLUMBIA, Md. – A survey conducted by MedStar Health found people could be overly confident about their ability to recognize the serious warning signs of someone having a stroke.  The national survey of 1000 people found 64% of respondents said they were “confident” about their knowledge of stroke symptoms, but just 23% could name the signs that make up the widely known acronym BEFAST which outlines sudden changes that can be signs of stroke:

  • Balance
  • Eyes
  • Face
  • Arms
  • Speech
  • Time

Symptoms of stroke infographic
Click here to enlarge graphic

“We want people to be familiar with the BEFAST acronym because if they see someone exhibiting these warning signs, they should call 911 right away,” said Andrew Stemer, MD, a neurologist and Medical Director of the Comprehensive Stroke Center at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital and also performs neuro interventional procedures at the Comprehensive Stroke Center at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. “For the last letter, ‘time,’ we like to say that ‘time is brain’ so the sooner the person having the stroke gets medical attention, the greater the chance of saving their life and preventing permanent disabilities.”

The survey found that 83% of respondents knew to call 911 after the first stroke symptom.

What causes a stroke?

Photo of a hand holding a cell phone about to dial 911.A stroke happens when there is a blockage to the blood supply to part of the brain (ischemic stroke) or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts (hemorrhagic stroke). In either case, parts of the brain become damaged or die. A stroke can cause lasting brain damage, long-term disability, and death.

“Because the brain needs oxygen to work properly, if something happens to block the flow of blood, brain cells start to die very quickly, within minutes, because they can’t get oxygen,” said Dr. Stemer.

According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report in 2021, one in six deaths from cardiovascular disease was due to stroke, every 40 seconds someone in the United States has a stroke and every three minutes and 14 seconds, someone dies of stroke.

Other stroke survey results

Seventy-four percent of the people surveyed personally know someone who has experienced a stroke and 55% say they have someone in their life they fear is at risk.  While most of the respondents identified the factors that increase the risk of stroke, only two percent could identify all these risk factors correctly:

  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Family history
  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Age
  • Cancer

In addition, fewer than half identified eyesight changes and the sudden onset of severe headache as signs of stroke and just six percent of those surveyed could accurately identify all the signs of stroke including:

  • Speech difficulty
  • Face drooping
  • Arm weakness
  • Balance issues
  • Eyesight changes
  • Sudden onset of severe headache

A young man calls for help while helping a woman who was injured in a car accident."With the results of the survey showing that only six percent of respondents knowing all the signs and symptoms of a stroke, it's more important than ever that everyone understands the acronym BEFAST,” said Paul Singh, MD, MPH, FAHA, director of the Comprehensive Stroke Center and Neuroendovascular Surgery at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center. “Time is critical when it comes to stroke. Every minute counts to save brain cells and that directly impacts recovery."

Stroke was the third leading health condition survey respondents said they’re concerned about personally after heart disease and cancer.

BEFAST in Spanish is RÁPIDO

As part of our commitment to help all people in the communities we serve, MedStar Health recently launched a Spanish version of BEFAST called RÁPIDO, a new tool to help the Spanish-speaking populations we serve understand the signs and symptoms of stroke.

Symptoms of stroke infographic
Click here to enlarge graphic

“RÁPIDO is a simple graphic that highlights stroke signs and symptoms in Spanish,” said M. Carter Denny, MD, MPH, vascular neurologist at MedStar Health, who also contributed to research efforts to develop and launch the new tool. “A crucial step in providing equitable health care is ensuring that we’re reaching communities with accessible and culturally tailored messaging. RÁPIDO aims to break down the language barrier to initiating acute stroke care in Spanish speaking communities.”

The RÁPIDO graphic was developed by researchers from the University of Texas Health Science Center and is also endorsed by the American Heart Association.

“MedStar Health is committed to helping all people in the communities we serve to reduce stroke-related disability by controlling their risk factors, knowing the warning signs and when to call 911 in the event of a possible stroke,” said Dr. Denny. “Every minute truly does count when it comes to stroke. Getting to the hospital quickly can make the difference between life and death, or a full recovery and a long-term disability.”

MedStar Washington Hospital Center, MedStar Georgetown University Hospital, and MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center all offer Comprehensive Stroke Centers (CSCs) accredited by The Joint Commission. Comprehensive stroke centers offer the highest level of certification for hospitals that have advanced and specific capabilities to treat patients with the most complex stroke cases.