Stroke Awareness Month: There's an App for That, Too

May 21, 2013, 2:15 PM

file F.A.S.T. app alerts users to stroke symptoms and a call to action

May is Stroke Awareness Month, a good time to bump up the percentage of Americans who recognize the most common symptoms of a stroke from only 38 percent, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) survey. Speedily identifying stroke symptoms and calling for an ambulance is essential because people who get to an emergency room for treatment within three hours are healthier three months later than people for whom stroke care was delayed, according to the CDC.

New this year to help increase symptom awareness is a free smartphone app from the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association called F.A.S.T. The acronym stands for common stroke symptoms and a critical call to action: Face drooping; Arm weakness; Speech difficulty; and Time to call 9-1-1. The app also includes a link to additional symptoms that bystanders and caregivers can access and a 9-1-1 button to call an ambulance. Using the 9-1-1 button saves time by not having to back out of the app to dial the number manually. And using the button also generates an automatic time stamp, which gives emergency room staff a good indication of when symptoms began. Some treatments can only be given within a specific time window.

About 15 to 20 percent of downloaded apps these days are health-related says Brian Dolan, editor of Mobihealthnews, who says key features of the F.A.S.T. app are that it has prominent organizations behind it, which lets users know the information is vetted, and also allows better opportunity to publicize the app and thereby increase awareness for stroke symptoms.

That’s critical. Stroke experts say everyone should know the signs of a stroke—it’s the leading cause of death in the United States, and kills nearly 130,000 Americans each year, according to the CDC. One person dies of a stroke every four minutes—while accessing the app takes just seconds.   

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This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.