Virginia’s No. 4 killer can be easily identified by remembering a four-letter acronym.

Image by Mike Ramm

A stroke, also referred to as a brain attack, occurs when the brain is deprived of blood—and in turn loses its supply of oxygen. Stroke is the No. 4 killer in Virginia, according to the American Heart Association, and an estimated 3 percent of Virginians have suffered a stroke and are living with its after-effects, the state’s health department reports.

Ischemic stroke, caused by a clot or mass in a blood vessel, is the most common form of the condition.

The warning signs of a stroke and advice for addressing it can be summed up by the acronym FAST: face, arm, speech and time. Does one side of the face droop when a person smiles? Can they lift both arms or does one slip downward? Is their speech slurred or garbled? If you notice any of these symptoms in someone, don’t waste any time dialing 911.

“For years, all the stroke centers have tried to get the information out that time is brain,” says Joel Temme, an internist at Alexandria Internal Medicine.

Doctors often use a class of medicines known as thrombolytics to help quickly dissolve a clot in the case of ischemic strokes. Physical and occupational therapy can aid some patients in regaining balance and function of their muscles on the side of the body affected by the stroke.

Physicians may also work with patients to reduce the risk of another attack by focusing on lifestyle changes such as reducing high blood pressure, losing excess weight and quitting smoking.

“In theory we like to think we’re working on all of that on the front end, and we don’t wait until an event occurs, but after an event, more aggressive intervention is sometimes indicated,” says Temme.

(Top Doctors 2018February 2018)