It is estimated that in England alone, 1 in 6 people will experience a stroke during their lifetime and that 30% of those will go on to suffer a further stroke. It is the leading cause of death and disability in the UK with around 32,000 stroke related deaths per year.
Awareness is crucial, which is why the Act FAST campaign was relaunched earlier this year to reach out to people of all ages and highlight the risk of stroke, the signs to look for, and how vital it is that people call 999 and get to hospital as soon as possible. Around 1.9 million nerve cells in the brain are lost every minute that a stroke is left untreated, which can result in slurred speech and paralysis. If left untreated, a stroke can result in permanent disability or death.
The FAST campaign can be summed up as follows:
- F (face) – has their face fallen on one side? Can they smile?
- A (arms) – can they raise both their arms and keep them there?
- S (speech) – is their speech slurred?
- T (time) – to call 999 (911 if in the US)
It becomes a race against the clock as soon as symptoms appear, with each passing second doing more damage and reducing the chance of a recovery. The key to preventing long-term disability starts with recognizing the warning signs.
- A severe headache
- Blurred or double vision
- Slurred speech or trouble speaking
- Facial twitching or weakness
- Sudden weakness in an arm or leg, typically on just one side of the body
- Dizziness or loss of balance
The symptoms that a person may experience may be one or a combination of those listed above. However, it is important to understand that symptoms in women may be less obvious than those in men.
If you notice any signs of a potential stroke, call 999 (911 if you’re in the US) right away, even if symptoms seem to disappear. Remember to record the time that symptoms started, as this can help doctors guide treatment.
What You Should Do
Act fast and call emergency services. The hardest thing you have to do is recognize symptoms of a stroke. If you do observe any symptoms, you should call 999 immediately. You should also immediately tell the dispatcher, ‘I think I’m having a stroke’ or ‘I think my loved one is.’
A clot-busting medication called tPA, or tissue plasminogen activator, can be given to someone if they’re having a stroke, potentially reversing or stopping symptoms from developing. But it has to be given within 4.5 hours of the start of symptoms.
If you witness someone having a stroke, it would be helpful to look at what time the symptoms started. That way, the emergency staff can make a more informed decision about treatment options.
Most stroke patients don’t require CPR. But if your friend or spouse is unconscious when you find them, check their pulse and breathing. If you find none, call 999 (911 if in US) and start CPR while you’re waiting for the ambulance to arrive.
You can also ask the dispatcher to walk you through how to perform CPR, which consists of repeated, steady chest compressions.
What You Shouldn’t Do
When a stroke occurs it may make them suddenly feeling very sleepy. The medication that is given to stroke survivors is time-sensitive so it is important that you do not let them go to sleep. And no matter how much someone might try to talk you out of taking them to the hospital, don’t let them.
There are two possible types of stroke:
- Hemorrhagic stroke, caused by a ruptured blood vessel
- Ischemic stroke, caused by a clot in a blood vessel
80% of strokes are ischemic ones, but if you’re in that 20% and your stroke was caused by a ruptured blood vessel in the head, you don’t want the victim to have aspirin.
To be safe, don’t give someone who has a stroke any medication. You also shouldn’t give them food or drinks before the ambulance comes as a stroke can affect their ability to swallow.
It might seem like a good idea to drive a stroke victim to the nearest emergency room. But if someone is severely affected by a stroke, then you’re better off calling 999 (911 if US).
Emergency responders can start life-saving treatment for that person on the way to the emergency room so you are wasting valuable time by trying to drive there.