First aid

Would you know if someone was having a stroke?

Would you know if someone was having a stroke? Third largest cause of death in the UK

A stroke happens when the blood supply to the brain is suddenly disrupted. Strokes are the third most common cause of death in the UK, after heart disease and all cancers. Stroke is also the biggest cause of disability.

Act F.A.S.T: How to spot a stroke

If someone is having a stroke they need to be treated quickly to improve their chances of survival and limit damage to the brain and future disability.

If you suspect someone is having a stroke, you need to be able to recognise the following signs:

  1. Face: facial weakness - can the person smile? Has their mouth or eye drooped?
  2. Arm: does it show weakness? - can the person raise both arms?
  3. Speech: problems - can the person speak clearly and understand what you say?
  4. Time: If they have any of these signs, call 999/112

Other symptoms

Between eight to nine out of ten people who have a stroke experience one or more of the FAST signs. However, other stroke symptoms include:

  • Sudden or severe headache
  • Dizziness
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Loss of bladder or bowel control
  • Sudden blurred, double or reduced vision, in one or both eyes. Visual disturbances - seeing starry patterns or zig-zag lines - may also occur.


Although most of us have heard of strokes, much less are aware of mini-strokes or transient ischaemic attacks. These have similar symptoms to stroke but may only last for a few minutes or hours. They should never be ignored. One in five people who have a TIA go on to have a full blown stroke. Anyone with "temporary" stroke signs should be seen by a doctor immediately.

This article was published on Thu 27 May 2010

Image © James Steidl -

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