Image thanks to NHS Wales


A stroke is a disturbance to the blood flow of the brain caused by a blockage or bleed in one of the blood vessels supplying the brain. Blockages to the brain are a lot more common than bleeds. Both have the same symptoms.

What you are looking for

  • Face – can they smile and show their teeth?
  • Arms – can they raise their arms and keep them held there, or does one arm fall?
  • Speech – can they repeat a phrase you give them? Is their speech slurred? Do they have difficulty remembering words?
  • Tongue – if they stick their tongue out is it crooked to one side or another?
  • Unequal pupils


What causes a stroke

A stroke is caused either by a bleed or by a build-up of plaque and fatty deposits in the arteries (like angina and heart attacks). When these plaques break away, or if they slow the blood flow to the extent that it forms a clot, they can block a blood vessel supplying the brain and cause a stroke.

A Trans-Ischaemic Attack (TIA) can cause stroke-like symptoms that resolve fairly quickly. The arteries in the brain have become blocked by fatty plaques (in the same way as with angina in the heart) and TIAs are warning signs that someone is at high risk of having a stroke. Any stroke-like symptoms should be taken seriously, and a medical professional consulted immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment can prevent a full stroke.

If someone is showing the signs of a stroke, phone an ambulance immediately and get them to a specialist Stroke Unit as soon as possible. Time is critical– if the stroke is caused by a blood clot and they are able to receive clot-busting drug treatment (Alteplase) within 3 hours, the symptoms of the stroke can often be reversed.


Written by Emma Hammett for First Aid for Life

It is strongly advised that you attend a fully regulated Practical or Online First Aid course to understand what to do in a medical emergency. Please visit or call 0208 675 4036 for more information about our courses.


First Aid for Life is a multi-award-winning, fully regulated first aid training provider. Our trainers are highly experienced medical, health and emergency services professionals who will tailor the training to your needs. Courses for groups or individuals at our venue or yours.


First Aid for life provides this information for guidance and it is not in any way a substitute for medical advice. First Aid for Life is not responsible or liable for any diagnosis made, or actions taken based on this information.


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