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Piri Weepu’s stroke demands FAST action by all of us

7 April 2014

Piri Weepu’s stroke demands FAST action by all of us

Piri Weepu’s recent stroke comes as an unhappy but timely reminder that stroke can affect anyone at any time, said the Stroke Foundation of New Zealand at the beginning of its 2014 Awareness Week (7-13 April). People need to know that stroke does not just affect old people and they need to know the signs in order to act fast and seek urgent medical help.

“A quarter of all strokes happen to people under the age of 65,” said Stroke Foundation CEO Mark Vivian. “Often they go unrecognised in younger people because it is thought that stroke only happens to the elderly. Since so few of us recognise the symptoms of stroke it is doubly unlikely that they will be recognised in a younger person.”

A third of New Zealanders can’t recognise a single symptom of stroke, and a further quarter can only name one. The FAST message is an internationally proven way of increasing recall of the three main symptoms of stroke and the need to seek emergency care straight away (see Notes to Editors below for detail).

“We need a national awareness-raising campaign to promote the FAST message,” continued Mark Vivian. “That way thousands more stroke cases – young and old – will reach hospital in time to receive potentially life-saving treatment. Piri Weepu was lucky that as a professional sportsman he had ready access to the team doctor who picked up the signs, however unlikely they seemed. Ordinary New Zealanders need to rely on friends, family or colleagues having the knowledge to recognise a stroke when they see one.”

Around 9,000 New Zealanders a year have a stroke – that’s about 1 new stroke patient every hour. Up to half of all stroke cases could be treated with clot-busting drugs if they arrive within three hours of the stroke’s onset at a hospital where they can be scanned and given the drugs. In many cases this can reduce the damage done by the stroke or even reverse the symptoms entirely. All stroke patients can benefit from stroke unit care to maximise recovery and prevent recurrence of stroke.

FAST stands for Face Arms Speech Time:
Face – Look at the person’s face and ask them to try and smile; is one side drooping?
Arms – Ask them to raise both arms; is one side weak?
Speech – Ask them to say something simple; are they unable to speak or are the words jumbled or slurred?
Time – Act FAST and call 111. Time lost may mean brain lost.

By memorising this simple symptom check everyone should be able to recognise a stroke and get the person to hospital where they can potentially receive vital treatment to reduce brain damage or even save their life.

More information at www.stroke.org.nz/FAST .

STROKE FACTS AND FIGURES
• Stroke is the third largest killer in New Zealand after heart disease and cancer.
• Each year around 9,000 people have a stroke – that’s around 24 New Zealanders every day.
• Each year over 2,500 people die from stroke
• Disabilities from stroke make it one of the highest consumers of hospital beds, services and community support in this country.
• There are an estimated 60,000 stroke survivors in New Zealand, many of whom have disability and need significant daily support.
• A stroke is a sudden interruption of blood flow to the brain, causing brain cell damage. Basically, it is a brain attack.

Recognising stroke symptoms
• Delayed recognition of a stroke means delayed medical intervention – which can have tragic consequences, including further damage to the brain or death.
• In 2007 and 2010, the Stroke Foundation commissioned research to assess the general public’s ability to recognise the signs of stroke and to act appropriately if a stroke is suspected.
• The results from both surveys showed that at least one third of New Zealanders were unable to recognise even one sign of stroke.
• Only about 10 per cent of respondents could recognise three correct signs of stroke.

Act FAST
The FAST acronym was developed by stroke researchers in the United States as an effective way for people to recognise three key stroke symptoms and to act fast if a stroke is suspected. Subsequent evaluation of the FAST message by researchers in the US found it sufficient to pick up 88.9 per cent of strokes and TIAs (mini strokes).

Other international evaluations of FAST have found that it is an effective mnemonic for increasing and retaining knowledge of the key signs of stroke and the importance of acting fast.

Large scale mass-media publicity campaigns to spread the FAST message have been launched successfully in several countries, including the UK, Australia and the USA. Australia last year invested in a A$2million extension to their campaign. Evaluations in Australia, the UK and Ireland have shown increased public recognition of stroke symptoms and increased stroke calls to emergency services following advertising campaign activity.

ENDS

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