Fast Guidance – Why is time so important if you are having a stroke?
Many people will remember the somewhat distressing NHS TV advert from a few years ago, which gave the acronym FAST, the purpose of which was to remind people to act fast if they noticed someone having a stroke.
The four letters in the word FAST each stood for something:
F, stood for Face. If you see one side of someone’s face drooping, it is a key indicator that they could be suffering from a stroke.
A, stood for Arm. If someone’s arm suddenly drops, they lose control of it, or it moves independently then this is also a key indicator that they could be suffering from a stroke.
S, stood for Speech. Often, speech can become slurred, difficult to understand or impossible if someone is suffering from a stroke.
T, stood for Time. Time is of the essence if someone is suffering from a stroke. The advice is to call an ambulance immediately.
I know the advert was effective, not only because I remember it clearly myself, but also because it has been one of the first things several of my clients talked about when they first called to see if we could help them bring a claim.
Its message was simple, shocking and true. The image of the person in the advert suffering so suddenly was a distressing interlude to whatever you might have been watching on TV at the time.
I know through my experience of running claims where someone has suffered life-changing injuries as a result of having a stroke – time really is of the essence.
One of the reasons that time is so important – and probably the key reason the advert was made – is because there are treatments that are amazingly effective if administered quickly.
A stroke described in the most basic way is a sudden interruption in the blood supply to the brain. This can be caused by a number of things, but if it is caused by a blood clot (a clump of blood that has changed from liquid to almost-solid), and thrombolysis (a medical anticoagulant treatment) is administered it can break the clot down and limit the damage caused.
If you can imagine the blood clot stopping or slowing the flow of blood to the brain and this interrupting the brain’s oxygen supply, then it is easy to see how the quicker you can break down the clot, the less damage will occur. In fact thrombolysis needs to be administered within four and a half hours to have any effect at all.
I have had clients where delays in treatment have meant that thrombolysis was not possible. I have also had clients who noticed symptoms but did not take action quickly enough themselves to receive treatment – such simple things that can have a catastrophic impact.
In order to administer thrombolysis, doctors need to assess what has caused the stroke (to see if the treatment will be effective), check that there is no indication that you should not have the treatment and then administer is through an injection.
The treatment can be damaging if used on the wrong type of stroke and diagnosis is normally by scan, so there is quite a lot to do before treatment can be given. It is easy to see why it is important to act quickly as soon as symptoms appear.
The FAST guidance only applies when someone is already having a stroke. There are warning signs that someone is likely to suffer a stroke at some point that are often not picked up by people or by the doctors who treat them.
In a separate blogs I will discuss the experiences of a few of my past clients where key warning signs such as mini-strokes (transient ischaemic attacks) or high blood pressure (hypertension) were not properly noted or treated.