A test that examines facial weakness, arm weakness, and speech disturbance allows paramedics to identify stroke quickly and accurately, researchers report in the April 30 issue of Stroke. The study found that paramedics who used the Face Arm Speech Test (FAST) were in close agreement with neurologists using the National Institute of Health Stroke Scale in early recognition of stroke.
FAST was developed in 1998 as a stroke identification tool that examines facial weakness, arm weakness, and speech disturbance. The study is the largest and first non-experimental study in which paramedics' assessments using FAST to diagnose strokes were compared with assessments by stroke physicians or neurologists.
Rapid treatment of a stroke can reduce long-term deficits, but symptoms of stroke can be vague and transient, making early identification difficult. From August 2001 to July 2002, ambulance crews brought 278 suspected stroke cases to the acute stroke unit at University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Of these, 217 (78%) were confirmed as stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA). A stroke neurologist examined cases an average of 18 hours after paramedic assessment.
Assessments by the neurologist and the paramedics were almost the same for all the areas measured. The most prevalent sign in confirmed acute stroke patients was arm weakness, which was present in 96 percent of patients.