Stroke: would you know when to call 999?

Stroke kills more than 40,000 people a year in the UK and leaves around two-thirds of stroke survivors with a disability. Yet almost a quarter of people wouldn’t call 999 if they spotted someone with the first signs of stroke, says Public Health England (PHE).

According to PHE, research shows that 24 percent of people would wait to call an ambulance because they wrongly believe they need to see two or more symptoms of stroke to be sure. Other things stopping them from calling 999 include feeling they need permission to act on behalf of someone else.

PHE’s annual Act FAST campaign aims to remind us all about the main symptom of stroke as well as the importance of calling for an ambulance immediately if you notice any single one of the symptoms in yourself or in others:

  • Face – has their face fallen on one side? Can they smile?
  • Arms – can they raise both their arms and keep them there?
  • Speech – is their speech slurred?
  • Time to call 999.

Expert advice

“Stroke is one of the leading causes of death in the country, and the faster someone experiencing a stroke gets emergency treatment, the more chance that person has of surviving and avoiding serious disability,” explains Professor Kevin Fenton, PHS’s National Director for Health and Wellbeing.

“It is crucial to Act FAST when you see any single one of the symptoms of stroke, and do not delay making that all-important 999 call.”

Dr Lasana Harris, experimental and social psychologist at the University College London, adds that people should act first and worry later. “We always look to make sense of a situation, and even if someone appears to be having a stroke we may worry about causing offence or mutual embarrassment,” he says.

“If no one else acts, then we ourselves may not see it as an emergency. However, the imagined consequences of action are minor compared to the consequences of inaction when someone is having a stroke.”

According to the Stroke Association’s chief executive Juliet Bouverie, the quicker you act, the more of the person you save. “We know people recognise the signs of stroke but they aren’t taking the right action at the right time,” she claims.

“A stroke is a brain attack, and acting fast makes a huge difference. You are more likely to survive a stroke and make a better recovery if you call 999 on spotting any one of the symptoms.”

Are you at risk?

The risk of having a stroke increases as you get older, says the Stroke Association. But a stroke can happen to anyone, and one in four affects people under the age of 65. Other risk factors include your family history and ethnicity (people who are South Asian, black African or black Caribbean have a higher risk than others in the UK), and your lifestyle (smoking, drinking too much alcohol, being overweight and eating unhealthy foods can have a big impact on your stroke risk).

Having high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol can increase your risk of stroke too. Your local Careway pharmacist can offer lots of advice to help manage your blood pressure and cholesterol if they’re too high, and many pharmacies also offer blood pressure checks and cholesterol testing.

Find your nearest participating Careway pharmacy by using our Pharmacy Finder.