What would you do if you thought you, or someone near you, was having a stroke?
In a medical emergency, reacting quickly can mean the difference between life and death - and in the case of stroke, it can also offer a vital chance to limit the long-term effects or disabilities experienced by so many survivors.
Every year there are more than 100,000 strokes in the UK and on average 40,000 people die from stroke. Almost half of stroke patients who survive leave hospital with moderate to severe disability.
It is encouraging that the majority of people (93%) would call 999 if they saw a stroke, but a quarter (24%) of people incorrectly think that they need to see two or more signs before making the call.
In fact, you only need to see one sign of stroke to know it is time to call 999, and the faster you act, the better the chances of a good recovery.
Public Health England's Act FAST campaign is there to remind us all of the symptoms of stroke and when we need to think and act FAST.
You might have seen the adverts on TV or social media, which include a simple test to help people identify the most common signs of a stroke:
• Face: has their face fallen on one side? Can they smile?
• Arms: can they raise both arms and keep them there?
• Speech: is their speech slurred?
• Time: it is time to call 999 if you see any single one of these signs of stroke
Getting appropriate treatment fast reduces the amount of brain damage and improves the chance of a positive outcome.
We want to encourage everyone - whether they are a stranger in the street, a family member at home or the person themselves - not to hesitate and to make the call immediately when they see any of the key stroke symptoms.
This year, we've heard real stories from people whose actions helped them to make a full recovery from stroke.
People like Alan, 70, who woke up with weakness in his arms and difficulty walking and talking. When he looked in the mirror he realised his face was fallen on the left hand side.
Luckily Alan had seen the Act FAST advertisement and recognised the signs of stroke. His wife quickly rang for an ambulance and he was taken to hospital.
As a result of dialling 999 so quickly, the specialist stroke unit was waiting and could treat Alan immediately on arrival, and he has made an almost complete recovery.
A stroke is a 'brain attack' caused by a disturbance of the blood supply to the brain. There are two main causes of strokes:
• ischaemic - where the blood supply is stopped due to a blood clot (this accounts for 85% of all cases)
• haemorrhagic - where a weakened blood vessel supplying the brain bursts
A related condition known as a transient ischaemic attack (TIA), or 'mini-stroke' can happen where the supply of blood to the brain is temporarily interrupted, often lasting between 30 minutes and several hours. TIAs should be treated seriously as they're often a warning sign that you're at risk of having a full stroke in the near future.
Reducing the risk
The risk of having a stroke is higher among people in certain ethnic groups, including South Asian, African and Caribbean people, partly because high blood pressure and diabetes are more common in these communities.
Some people are more at risk of having a stroke if they have certain medical conditions, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, atrial fibrillation (an irregular heartbeat) and diabetes.
Carefully monitoring and treating these conditions can help reduce your chance of having a stroke. Leading a healthy, active lifestyle is also vital to help reduce your risk, including:
• Quitting smoking
• Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight
• Getting enough exercise
• Eating a healthy balanced diet
• Not drinking too much alcohol
You can find more information on stroke and the Act FAST campaign online.