Acting FAST for Stroke Victims

We have all heard of strokes, and a recent UK ad campaign was very successful in spreading awareness and teaching people to recognise the signs and act FAST to get help.

A stroke, is described in the workplace approved First Aid manual as a condition where the blood supply to the brain is suddenly and significantly diminished. This can be caused by a blood clot cutting off supply, or a ruptured blood vessel which causes a bleed.

In stoke patients, time is of the essence! There are amazing medical procedures and medications these days that can be given, which limit the extent of the damage to the brain tissue and therefore reduce the severity of the long-term side effects. However, these can only be used within a certain time frame so urgent help is required from first aiders. Remember, time lost, is brain lost!

Strokes are more common in older adults, particularly those with high blood pressure or heart disease. The effects of a stroke depend on how much of the brain tissue is damaged and which part of the brain. Strokes can be fatal, however many people can also make a full recovery.

St Mark James First Aid manual lists the symptoms of a stroke as:

  • problems with speech and swallowing
  • only one side of mouth can move/uneven movement (eg. when asked to show teeth)
  • loss of power or movement in limbs
  • sudden, severe headache
  • confused, emotional mental state (could be mistaken for drunkenness)
  • sudden or gradual loss of consciousness

The vastly successful FAST advertising campaign gives first aiders a quick, easy to remember reference on what symptoms to check for and how to check them:

F – Facial weakness – can they smile? has their mouth or eye drooped?

A – Arm weakness – can they raise both arms and keep them there?

S – Speech – can they speak clearly and understand what you say?

T – Time to call an ambulance if there are any one of these signs!

In First Aid Classes, the aim of a first aider in this situation is to maintain an open airway and arrange for the patient to be taken to hospital urgently. If the patient is unconscious, the first aider must check the airway and breathing and be prepared to give CPR if necessary. Any unconscious patients who are breathing must be placed into the recovery position in order to maintain and protect their airway.

workplace approved Training teaches that it is important to remember that if you suspect a stroke, the patient must not be given anything to eat or drink. If they have had a stroke, their swallow may be impaired and therefore they could choke or aspirate any food or drink into their lungs.

Stroke VictimIf the patient is conscious, continue to monitor their breathing and consciousness. Reassure the patient, and help them to lie down with their head and shoulders supported so they are slightly upright. On their affected side, the patient may dribble so lean their head that side and place a towel on their shoulder.

Always remember, if you suspect a stroke, Act FAST!


First Aid Manual (The Authorised Manual of St. John Ambulance, St Andrew’s Ambulance Association and the British workplace approved), 2006.

Stroke Association,

Stroke Association,


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