Getting medical help for a stroke

Recognising a stroke

Stroke symptoms can vary in type and severity and sometimes people experience unusual symptoms (see 'The event' a stroke or TIA'). 

The Stroke Association recommend the FAST test to help recognise a stroke.

Use the Face-Arm-Speech Time test (FAST)

Three simple checks can help you recognise whether someone has had a stroke or minor stroke (Transient Ischaemic Attack - TIA).

If you see any of the following signs, call 999 immediately or 112 from a mobile.

F - Facial weakness' Can the person smile? Has their mouth or an eye drooped?
A - Arm weakness' Can the person raise both arms?
S - Speech problems' Can the person speak clearly & understand
 what you say?
- Time to call 999.

Although the FAST campaign contains many of the most common signs of stroke, one person felt that it was not comprehensive enough.

Many people that we spoke to were not aware that they were having a stroke but most knew something was wrong and sought help. Younger people or people that had previously been fit and well did not recognise the symptoms or realise that they could be having a stroke. Those whose stroke had been due to high blood pressure often commented that it was a silent condition with no warning signs [Interview 01]. One older woman thought you would feel worse with a stroke and was surprised when the paramedics said they were taking her to hospital as she felt okay. In some cases, the person recognised they were having a stroke, but experienced long delays in getting help.

Occasionally friends, family and even passers-by spotted that the person was having a stroke. The landlord in a man's local pub had noticed a drop in his face and called an ambulance [Interview 28]. A woman had spoken to her daughter on the phone and the daughter knew something was wrong because her speech was slurred (See Interview 33 above). Several people whose speech had been affected realised they were having a stroke and had written it down to alert others to get help.

Witnessing somebody having a stroke can be a very frightening experience and some people said that those around at the time understandably panicked. People were very appreciative that others had reacted quickly to get help and valued someone taking control of the situation and being calm and supportive until help arrived (See Interview 01 above).

Getting help

Most called 999 for an ambulance or called their general practitioner as soon as they experienced symptoms even if they did not know that it was a stroke. 

For those who called an ambulance some experienced a long wait which became quite worrisome. One individual called 999 with much difficulty as he was limited in movement and speech.

A few people put off phoning the general practitioner or going to Accident and Emergency (A and E) and some reflected that they should have got help sooner. One man's brother told him he should have phoned straight away as they can do more to help in the first few hours.

Some people who had phoned their general practitioner had not been able to get help immediately particularly if it was out of hours. One man's wife was told to phone for an ambulance instead which came quickly. People who had contacted their doctor were often still taken to hospital. A few people were not taken to hospital because the stroke was not considered severe - in some cases this led to delays in getting tests and treatment. 

Current advice is that everyone should be taken to hospital as soon as possible, regardless of severity of symptoms.  If you do not pass the FAST test (see above) dial 999 or 112 from a mobile for an ambulance to get immediate assessment in hospital.

Many people were taken to A & E by ambulance or by a family member. Experiences of A & E varied, some felt that they were given priority because of a suspected stroke others experienced long delays. A woman whose husband had a severe stroke and went to a busy city A & E was frustrated that his form kept getting put back because people with heart attack were a priority.

People were often told that they had a stroke in A & E (see 'Getting a diagnosis'). 

Health professionals occasionally find it difficult to diagnose the stroke usually when the symptoms are mild or unusual. A woman who was a trained neurologist did not pick up on her mother's stroke until her speech started to become affected even though she suspects the stroke had occurred the previous day. An older woman's doctor was very apologetic that he had missed earlier balance problems which were the start of her stroke, but explained that strokes were sometimes difficult to diagnose. 

A Pakistani woman who did not speak English was frustrated because when she went to hospital she was unable to explain her symptoms which she suspected were a stroke.

A few younger people were upset when staff asked them whether they had been using drugs. Although they realised why these question were being asked they felt that they could have been dealt with more sensitively. One woman in her early 30s who had unusual visual symptoms was upset when they kept asking if her husband had hit her.


Last reviewed June 2017.
Last updated August 2013



Please use the form below to tell us what you think of the site. We’d love to hear about how we’ve helped you, how we could improve or if you have found something that’s broken on the site. We are a small team but will try to reply as quickly as possible.

Please note that we are unable to accept article submissions or offer medical advice. If you are affected by any of the issues covered on this website and need to talk to someone in confidence, please contact The Samaritans or your Doctor.

Make a Donation to

Find out more about how you can help us.

Send to a friend

Simply fill out this form and we'll send them an email