Stroke is a common cause of death and disability.

A stroke occurs when the supply of blood to part of the brain is suddenly disrupted. Blood flow can stop through the artery when it gets blocked by a blood clot or when an artery ruptures. Without the oxygen that the blood supplies, surrounding brain cells are quickly damaged and die. A quick response is needed. If treatment is provided quickly, some of these damaged brain cells can survive. Therefore, it is extremely important to recognise stroke quickly and to send for an ambulance immediately if stroke symptoms are present. 

A person with the symptoms of stroke should be transported by ambulance because paramedics can start the management for stroke and make sure the person is taken to the most appropriate hospital for specialist stroke management. Paramedics can also notify the receiving hospital, reducing time to the start of treatment.

Recognition of Stroke

First aid providers can use stroke assessment systems such as F.A.S.T. for individuals with suspected acute stroke.

F.A.S.T. is a simple way for remembering the signs of stroke.

  • Facial weakness – ask the person to smile. Is their mouth droopy on one side?
  • Arm weakness – ask the person raise both arms. Can they only raise one arm or is one arm weaker?
  • Speech difficulty – ask the person to repeat a phrase. Is their speech slurred and can they understand what you say?
  • Time to act fast – if any of these signs are present send for an ambulance immediately.

Other common symptoms of strokes include:

  • Numbness of the face, arm, or leg on either or both sides of the body.    
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Dizziness, loss of balance or an unexplained fall.
  • Loss of vision, sudden blurred or decreased vision in one or both eyes.
  • Headache usually severe and of abrupt onset or unexplained change in the pattern of headaches.
  • Drowsiness or confusion.
  • Reduced level of consciousness.

When there is doubt over diagnosis, the victim should be managed as having a stroke until proven otherwise.

Management of Stroke

  • If the person is unresponsive and not breathing normally, commence resuscitation.
  • If the person becomes unconscious but is breathing, lay the person on their side and ensure airway is clear.
  • D.R.S.A.B.C.D. and call an ambulance for any victim who has shown signs of stroke, no matter how brief or if symptoms have resolved.
  • DO NOT give anything to eat or drink.
  • Provide reassurance.