Page last updated at 02:09 GMT, Monday, 9 February 2009

'Swift action' aids stroke care

The campaign urges people to act fast at the first signs of a stroke

A simple test to help people to recognise the signs of stroke and react quickly is being launched by the Department of Health.

Stroke accounts for 9% of deaths in men and 13% of deaths in women in the UK.

The campaign emphasises that swift emergency action can limit damage in the brain and dramatically increase a person's chances of surviving.

The government said the NHS should also be able to make considerable cost savings if the campaign is a success.

Posters and leaflets will be placed in GP surgeries, village halls and libraries, while adverts will be run in newspapers, on TV and on the radio.

They will focus on how an attack affects the face, arms and speech, and offer advice on getting the patient to hospital quickly.

It is part of the government's three-year 100m stroke strategy in England which was published two years ago.

Spreads like fire

Ministers acted after criticisms that the standard of stroke care was lagging behind other European nations.

Professor Roger Boyle, the government's stroke advisor, said that strokes spread like fire in the brain - the sooner you get someone to treatment the more of the person you could save.

The campaign explains that only a hospital test can confirm a stroke for sure, but it is important to know the signs.

The Face, Arm, Speech, Time test (FAST) was developed by leading stroke physicians and is used by the emergency services to help them detect the condition.

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 - Time to call 999 if you see any single one of these signs
Department of Health
The Stroke Association has been promoting FAST since 2005 and its chief executive, Jon Barrick, said the campaign would give this work "a fantastic boost and could help reduce avoidable deaths resulting from stroke".

Each year, stroke costs the NHS around 2.8bn - nearly 1bn more than heart disease.

The UK-wide campaign to promote awareness of stroke will cost 12m over three years.

Quick diagnosis

An estimated 150,000 people have a stroke in the UK each year and around 300,000 people are living with moderate to severe disabilities as a result of a stroke.

A quarter of strokes happen to people under the age of 65.

Brain of stroke patient
Blood returning to brain of stroke patient after treatment with clot-busting drugs

The National Stroke Strategy says patients with a suspected stroke should have a brain scan as soon as possible to determine if it was caused by a blocked artery or a burst blood vessel.

They should also be given clot-busting drugs where appropriate.

But fewer than 10% of UK stroke patients reach hospital and undergo CT scanning within three hours, which is necessary if these drugs are to be given.

Eating healthily, taking moderate exercise, not smoking and ensuring your blood pressure is normal can all help to prevent stroke.

But the following groups have a higher risk of stroke: older people; those with a close relative who has had a stroke; South Asian, South African or Caribbean ethnic groups - partly because of higher rates of diabetes and high blood pressure; and those who have previously had a stroke or heart attack.

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