An Acronym Can Save Your Life

(Last Updated On: November 5, 2019)

Acronym Angrydrummer Ambulance 200pxScience Fact: An acronym can save your life!

A medical emergency is no business for amateurs. There’s a reason that medical professionals need immense amounts of training to know just what to do:
Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) take 120 to 150 hours of training
Paramedics complete 1,200 to 1,800 hours of coursework
Emergency Room Physicians earn an M.D. degree, complete a residency of 36 to 48 months, pass state licensing exams and usually obtain additional certifications

But when those highly trained folks are not close at hand, your life may be saved by – an acronym! If someone nearby is trained in CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), they may be thinking of the acronym ABC: Airway, Breathing and Circulation/CPR. But if you are not so trained and are on your own, another acronym may turn out to be your lifesaver.

Let’s discuss a few medical emergencies for which an algorithm may provide help when you are nowhere near trained caregivers.

Stroke – Acronym “FAST”

The following signs of stroke tend to appear suddenly, says the American Heart Association, which advocates the acronym FAST as a memory aid:
– F: Face. Ask the person to smile. Does the face look uneven?
– A: Arms. Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift down or is it unable to move?
– S: Speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Does their speech sound strange? Strange speech could be slurred, the wrong words may come out, or the person is unable to speak.
– T: Time to call 9-1-1.

Heart Attack – Acronym “STOP”

Once again, the Heart Association has some good quick advice in case of a heart attack. Sutter Health Systems in Northern California compresses the advice into the STOP acronym, which they credit to cardiologist Stephen Pope, M.D.:
– S: Shortness of breath
– T: Tightness of the chest, or pressure – feels like an elephant sitting on the chest
– O: Other symptoms such as cold sweats, weakness or fatigue, heart palpitations, dizziness or even loss of consciousness
– P: Pain in the chest, throat, neck, jaw, arms or back

Cardiac Arrest – Acronym “NORB”

For the description of cardiac arrest, yet again the Heart Association is a good source. In the absence of an accepted acronym, I will propose NORB for the warning signs:
NO-R: No Responsiveness. No response to tapping on shoulders.
NO-B: No Breathing. The victim does not take a normal breath when you tilt the head up and check for at least five seconds.

If these signs of cardiac arrest are present, call 9-1-1, get an AED (automated external defibrillator) if available and begin CPR.

Choking – Acronym “BAC, BAC To BAA”

In the case of choking, the advice is easy to find thanks to the Mayo Clinic. However, we have to stretch a bit to get the acronym “BAC, BAC To BAA”:
BAC – Breath, Cough. Breathing is difficult or noisy. Can’t Cough forcefully.
BAC – Blue, Consciousness. Skin, lips and nails turning Blue. Loss of Consciousness.
To – Talk. Inability to Talk.
If these are the symptoms, this is the treament:
BAA – Back, Abdominal, Abdominal. For Adults: 5 Back Blows, 5 Abdominal Thrusts and repeat. For Babies: Abdominal Thrusts only.

Science Speculation: If you’ve mastered “Fast Stop, Norb! Back, Back to Baaaaaaa!” you’ve done very well.

Do you need help to remember which acronym goes with which condition? If so, try this:

Stroke FAST to STOP Heart Attacks!

Mr. Cardiac, Arrest NORB!

“BAC, BAC to BAA” – It’s no joke! (choke)

There are two more great acronyms that are worth mentioning. LAST is guidance for search and rescue teams, and you are not likely to need it unless you are an emergency responder or, heaven forbid, lost in the mountains. RICE deals with injuries that are usually not life-threatening unless you are, once again, lost in the mountains.

Search & Rescue – Acronym LAST

LAST is the acronym standing for the four essential elements in search and rescue operations:
– L: Locate 
the lost individual or group and make your way to their location.
-A: Access 
the place where the subject is located, in a way that will not risk further injury either to the victim or the rescue team.
– S: Stabilize 
the lost person by performing a quick medical assessment and addressing any critical immediate needs. Stabilization may involve several types of activity: Physical (e.g., adding a harness or a splint, and moving to a safe place); Emotional (communicating the plan to the subject); and Medical (provide appropriate on-site treatment).
– T: Transport to a safe place for further treatment, such as a hospital.

Soft Tissue Injuries – Acronym RICE

The acronym RICE is a mnemonic for first aid treatment of soft tissue injuries such as bruises, sprains and strains. Its goal is not to cure the medical problem, but to manage discomfort and internal bleeding. RICE typically stands for:
– R: Rest the injured part, and Reassure the patient.
– I: Ice the injury to reduce inflammation, and Immobilize it to prevent further injury.
– C: Compression using an elastic bandage or compression stocking to reduce swelling without cutting off blood flow.
– E: Elevation of the injured area encourages the return of venous blood, resulting in less swelling and less pain.

Here’s hoping you never need to know them. But if you are in medical distress, far from a trained caregiver, “Fast Stop, Norb! Back, Back to Baaaaaaa!” may help you so that you don’t need to resort to “LAST RICE” (which almost rhymes with Last Rites).

Do you know an acronym, or several, that might save a life?

Drawing Credit: Angrydrummer, on

Reference Credit as of 2/13/2018: This blog includes three links to an American Heart Association article “Heart Attack or Stroke? Call 911 First. And Fast.” When I posted the blog that article had the web address However, as of 2/13/2018 I cannot find the article on their website. The article is important enough to be easily accessible, so I have saved it as a PDF file “Heart Attack or Stroke.pdf” and re-directed my links so that they now point to my PDF printout of the AHA article.


An Acronym Can Save Your Life — 2 Comments