Would you know what to do if someone has a stroke in front of you?

According to research done by the Stroke Association charity, every five minutes in the UK somebody will have a stroke which amounts to 100,000 strokes happening every year. Stroke can happen to anyone, whether young or old and surprisingly the Stroke Association even reports that almost 400 children have a stroke every year. For pharmacy teams knowing the warning signs of stroke is essential to help individuals get the vital support a person needs. A useful way to remember what to do is to act FAST, the letters of which give guidance on how to act when faced with a person having a stroke. This stands for:

Face - can the person smile? Has their face fallen on one side?

Arms - can the person raise both arms and keep them there?

Speech Problems - can the person speak clearly and understand what you say? Is their speech slurred?

Time - if you see any of these 3 signs it is time to call 999

Stroke symptoms can occur rapidly, and using FAST helps us to identify the main symptoms. However, the list is not exhaustive as other symptoms may also occur, including dizziness, loss of vision, blurred vision, paralysis of one side of the body, confusion, balance issues, difficulty swallowing and unconsciousness.

Remember, stroke is a medical emergency so if any symptoms occur, urgent medical attention is required. By acting FAST, less damage may happen and we can help rebuild a patient.

So, what is a Stroke?

A stroke happens when blood supply to parts of the brain is cut off, stopping the brain from receiving oxygen and other essential nutrients thereby effectively damaging or killing off the brain cells. This can occur as our blood vessels in the body harden and narrow allowing clots or blockages to form which lead to blood flow being restricted or stopped. This can also result in brain injuries, disabilities and even death.

There are two main types of stroke which both affect the brain in different ways. Ischaemic stroke occurs when there is a blockage of blood flow to the brain caused by blood clot or other obstruction. A haemorrhagic stroke occurs when blood vessels supplying the brain have narrowed and weakened and then burst causing bleeding. You may also hear people refer to a ‘mini-stroke’ which is also known as a transient ischaemic attack (TIA). This occurs when there is a temporary interruption of the blood supply to the brain lasting anything from a few minutes to a few hours. The symptoms may resolve quickly but should not be dismissed as they indicate the person is at a greater risk of having a full stroke at some point in the future.

As we get older our risk of stroke increases but our general health also plays a big part with conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity all increasing our chance of stroke. Smoking, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and lack of exercise all add to the risk, so as healthcare professionals we are in a great position to talk to our patients about how to reduce the likelihood of being affected by the condition. Simple measures such as being more active, cutting down on eating saturated fats and understanding how our stress levels can be managed all have positive impacts on our stroke risk.

Unfortunately, there are some factors that we cannot change such as our age and medical and family histories, but by managing better those factors that we can influence, our stroke risk can be managed too.

Having a stroke is life changing and affects individuals in many different ways. In most cases, stroke victims are left with long term issues which can have an impact on their quality of life and independence. They may require the support of their family and carers in performing normal daily tasks such as washing and eating. It can also be life changing for family members, especially if they are required to become the carers, so knowing where they can be signposted for further help and support in the locality is very important.

For more information about stroke and how to support stoke victims and their families and carers, please visit:

Khilna Shah

Khilna undertook a number of community pharmacy positions before becoming Pharmacy Manager for a large multiple. A passion for training led her to becoming the company's Pre-Registration Programme Manager for 10 years, during which time she also developed an optician pre-registration programme.

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