Our research has improved how we spot the symptoms of stroke and the people most at risk, so we can get them the best treatment in the critical minutes and hours that follow.
Stroke remains the fourth biggest killer in the UK and is a leading cause of adult disability. The number of people that will have a stroke is expected to rise. However, thanks to research, there are fewer people dying from a stroke than ever before.
You can read about our research success in the stories below.
Spotting stroke FAST (The Face Arms Speech Test)
The emergency services are an essential part of stroke services in the UK. They use the Face, Arm, Speech Test (FAST) to spot the signs of a stroke. By quickly identifying someone is having a stroke, they can get the person the best emergency treatments to protect their brain. Our charity played a key role in discovering that the FAST test works to spot the signs of a stroke.
In 2001, we started funding research by Professor Gary Ford and his team at the University of Newcastle. They found that paramedics could use the FAST test to correctly identify a stroke. The results of this research changed how these critical professionals identify whether someone is having a stroke.
This research also sparked public awareness campaigns to help the public identify the signs of stroke and take action so that stroke patients get life-saving medical attention more quickly. Without our early support for research showing that it was possible for people other than stroke doctors to be trained to use the FAST test, the FAST campaign may not have happened.
Have you seen a FAST campaign? Below, you can watch the video of Will, a stroke survivor who tells us about using the difference the FAST test made for him
Will said "I'm really, really thankful that my partner knew the FAST test and got me to A&E so very quickly. If that hadn't been the case the outcome for me could have been significantly different."
However, the research story doesn’t stop. The FAST test isn’t perfect, as it can’t spot every stroke. For example, there are other signs of stroke-like problems with vision or difficulty swallowing - that it might miss. We continue to fund research that can improve how we spot a stroke in order to get more people the best treatments, as soon as possible.
Dr Chris Price, a researcher we fund, is leading work to improve how we can identify stroke before someone is in the hospital using a blood test. He said: "I think it is quite a privilege to have the opportunity to do research, which could change the care for thousands of people per year in the NHS. And potentially worldwide".
Paramedics arrived quickly and Marney was able to receive emergency treatments that limited damage to her brain and set her on the way to rebuilding her life after stroke.
Since her stroke, Marney returned to work as a teacher and has become involved in stroke research. For example, she has helped design, taken part, and reviewed studies to help make decisions on if they should be funded, and how they could be improved. She has also presented at research conferences and trained medical students and researchers in patient and public involvement in research.
If you’re interested in getting involved in research, you can find out about our Stroke Voices in Research here on our website.
Symptoms that go away are not ‘just a funny turn’
Sometimes people experience stroke symptoms, but these only last for a short time. This is called a transient ischemic attack (TIA), and people who had had a suspected TIA used to wait weeks before they were seen by a specialist stroke doctor. However, our research helped change the way suspected TIA patients are treated so these people get the emergency medical attention they need more quickly.
From 1996, we funded Professor Peter Rothwell and his team at the University of Oxford to find out more about TIAs. At the time, researchers knew a TIA could signal a stroke was on its way, but we didn’t know how likely this was or what we could do to help stop a stroke from happening.
They found the risk of stroke in people who had a TIA was really high, with almost one in ten going on to have a full stroke within a week. Clearly, more needed to be done to prevent strokes in this high-risk group.
The researchers organised a special emergency TIA clinic in Oxfordshire where people were quickly seen by a stroke specialist. Patients went from receiving medication to reduce their risk of stroke in 20 days on average to one day. This had dramatic effects and the number of people with TIA having a stroke within three months was cut by 80 per cent. With our support, the researchers had found a clear way to prevent strokes. This new evidence changed the way suspected TIA patients are treated today.
Our research has also changed what we know about the effects of a TIA. We know that stroke can have a big impact on the way that people can move, think and feel, and these effects can last for a long time after stroke. However, the longer-term effects of TIA are less clear. Our support for research uncovered that people may have emotional problems or be at risk of developing anxiety or depression in the first year after their TIA. We continue to invest in research to uncover how we can best support people that experience a TIA.
John, stroke survivor and member of our Stroke Voices in Research group said: “By the time we got to A&E, there were no symptoms apart from a very bad headache. The TIA wasn’t diagnosed, although the young doctor must have suspected a stroke from my description, as she went through various checks, including strength and mental arithmetic.
But since the symptoms had gone, apart from the headache, I was able to do all these. I declined the offer of a prescription for the headache saying I had paracetamol at home. This shows the importance of the work Professor Peter Rothwell has done to improve the understanding of TIAs as a medical emergency.”