Recognising the symptoms of a stroke and advice on what to do next

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strokeThanks to the FAST advertising campaign (Face. Arms. Speech. Time), our awareness of the symptoms of a stroke, and understanding the importance of acting quickly has grown.


The quality of life for people that have suffered a stroke has been vastly improved due to quick reactions and immediate treatment.


In some cases, if diagnosed and treated promptly, a person who has suffered stroke has the potential to recover with little or no residual deficits.


A stroke happens when the blood supply to the brain is disrupted resulting in a lack of oxygen to the brain cells. These cells are dependent on oxygen and therefore become damaged and can die very quickly when their blood supply is affected. This can happen in two ways:


  • Blockage of the blood vessel in the brain, usually by a blood clot or by fatty deposits in the blood vessel, (Ischaemic Stroke).
  • A ruptured blood vessel within the brain which causes leakage of blood into the brain tissues, (Haemorrhagic Stroke).

Depending on the part of the brain affected by the stroke, a patient may present with different symptoms.


One side of a person’s body can become numb, weak or even paralysed. Their face may droop and they may slur or muddle their speech. Sight loss or blurred vision can also occur, and they may become confused or unsteady. Remember:

  • F: Face: Does one side of the face droop? Ask the person to smile and compare both sides of their face.
  • A: Arms: Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise their arms.  Does one arm drift?
  • S: Speech: Is their speech impaired? Ask the person to repeat something you say. Do they repeat it correctly? Is their speech slurred or confused?
  • T: Time: Time to act. Call 999 for an ambulance.



A brain scan is performed to diagnose a stroke. An MRI scan, (Magnetic Resonance Imaging), or CT scan, (Computerised Tomography), will show whether your stroke is ‘Ischaemic’ or ‘Haemorrhagic ’. This is important as the treatments are different.


Ultrasound studies of the in the arteries in the neck, (carotid arteries), may be also performed as these arteries supply the blood to the brain.

Blood pressure and the heart function will also be assessed and cholesterol and glucose levels will be determined through blood tests.



For an ischaemic stroke, a treatment called thrombolysis may be administered to dissolve the clot blocking the artery. This needs to be administered promptly (within four and a half hours of symptom onset) and extensive individualised patient assessment will be first undertaken to establish that this treatment will be beneficial.

Medications may be given to thin the blood to reduce the risk of further blood clots and to control cholesterol. In some cases, surgery may be needed if there is a partial blockage in the carotid artery.



Many stroke sufferers will be left with long-term problems which may affect them both mentally and physically. These may include:

  • Reduced mobility, dizziness, poor balance, fatigue
  • Cognition, the ability to learn, memory problems, loss of awareness
  • Depression, anxiety and communication difficulties
  • Difficulty swallowing food and/or fluids
  • Incontinence

Rehabilitation should be tailored to meet individual patient needs and this may focus on life style changes and home adaptations to encourage patient independence and optimise quality of life. Medications may be prescribed to reduce the risk of further stroke and support and regular assessments can assist patient recovery and rehabilitation.


Useful links:


You might also be interested in our blog: Guidelines for dialling 999.


First Response. Training for life. Training to save a life.

Last modified on Tuesday, 13 October 2015
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Linda Hart

Linda Hart AIfL - Assessor

RN Adult/DipHE/Assessor. A1/Neurology Sister. North Bristol NHS Trust.

First Response Resuscitation & First Aid Training Ltd

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