Stroke is a serious medical condition which usually affects older people and is the UK’s 4th biggest cause of death according to the Stroke Association. Almost two thirds of survivors leave hospital with a disability. It’s important that anyone experiencing a stroke receives the medical care they need as quickly as possible, so it’s vital that emergency services are called as soon as the symptoms of stroke appear.

What are the symptoms of a stroke?

Use the FAST method to determine whether a casualty might have had a stroke:

F – Face: ask the casualty to smile. If they cannot smile evenly or have a droopy eye or mouth, this is a sign they may have had a stroke.
A – Arms: Hold both arms up, ask the casualty to hold them up and then let them go. One arm may drop or drift.
S – Speech: Speak to the casualty and ask them questions. Their speech may be slurred.
T – Time to call 999: If a casualty displays any of the above symptoms, call emergency services and tell them you suspect a stroke, detailing the symptoms you’ve detected.
In addition to facial weakness, arm weakness and speech problems, stroke symptoms include:
  • A sudden and severe headache
  • Flushed face
  • Unequal pupils
  • Weakness or paralysis on one side of the body
  • Loss or blurring of vision in one or both eyes
  • Confusion and difficulty understanding speech
  • Dizziness, unsteadiness or falling

What should you do if someone has had a stroke?

If you suspect a stroke, call for an ambulance and keep the casualty comfortable and supported. Help them lie or sit down if they’re responsive. Regularly monitor their vital signs whilst waiting for an ambulance to arrive. Do not give them anything to eat or drink as they may have trouble swallowing.


Sometimes, stroke symptoms only last a few minutes. This is properly known as a transient ischaemic attack, but is also often referred to as a mini-stroke. While casualties will recover from their symptoms, medical advice should still be sought to confirm the casualty’s condition. People who experience a mini-stroke may have underlying health conditions and often experience a full stroke within a few weeks.

If you suspect a stroke, you should always call emergency services as soon as possible rather than waiting to see if the casualty improves.
Visit the British Heart Foundation to find out more about stroke.

About the author:

Dennis Outram is a senior first aid trainer and a Serving Brother in the Order of St John.
Find out more about Dennis.