Stroke awareness campaign aims to reduce deaths from Ireland’s third biggest killer

A local support group is heading up an awareness campaign in Galway aimed at reducing death and disability from stroke, Ireland’s third biggest killer disease.

Some 115 people in the city and county - from more than 400 who were treated for the condition - died in 2008. Nationally, almost 2,200 people died in the same period from around 10,000 cases of stroke.

The initiative is part of a national drive launched by the Irish Heart Foundation and supported by Boots Chemists

The Act FAST campaign acronym has been developed to inform the public about the key symptoms of a stroke:

o Face – has their face fallen on one side? Can they smile?

o Arms – can they raise both arms and keep them there?

o Speech – is their speech slurred?

o Time – time to call 999 if you see any one of these signs.

It is the biggest initiative ever run by the Irish Heart Foundation and is expected to have a major impact on outcomes from stroke by getting vastly more people to recognise key warning signs and seek emergency treatment when the disease strikes.

The Galway campaign was launched at the Boots store, Shop Street. It is supporting the local effort by displaying FAST posters and distributing wallet cards and leaflets for the duration of the campaign.

The average stroke destroys two million brain cells every minute, says Galway Stroke Support Group spokesperson Michael Griffin.

“The sooner a person receives emergency treatment, the more of their brain can be saved and the better their chances of surviving and minimising long-term disability.

”Getting emergency treatment immediately can mean the difference between walking out of hospital, sometimes within hours, and either death or spending the rest of your life being dependent on others.”

Mary Rose Burke, chief pharmacist with Boots, says because stroke is the third biggest cause of death in Ireland and the biggest cause of acquired disability, it is critical that there is increased awareness on prevention and treatment.

“We are proud to play a role in ensuring that the right information is available to the public.”

The campaign being mounted aims to tackle what experts term a frightening lack of public awareness about stroke. Research reveals that less than half of Irish adults would ring 999 if they thought they were having a stroke.

The study conducted by the Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and Red C followed up on the Irish Heart Foundation’s audit of stroke services which revealed that just one in 20 victims of the disease got to hospital within the time limit to receive the potentially life-saving clot buster treatment, thrombolysis.

The study also shows that 61.2 per cent of respondents didn’t know what a stroke was and 63.4 per cent couldn’t name more than one warning sign of stroke. Only 47.1 per cent would ring an ambulance if they thought they were having a stroke.

“This survey shows that public knowledge of stroke, the main warning signs and the fact that stroke is a medical emergency just isn’t good enough,” says Irish Heart Foundation medical director, Dr Angie Brown.

“More than 2,000 people are being killed by stroke each year and thousands more are being left to confront lifelong disabilities. This toll would be cut substantially if more people knew how to identify a stroke and that the only response is to ring 999.”

As part of the campaign, the Irish Heart Foundation has adapted a F.A.S.T. TV advert commissioned by the UK Government which resulted in a 55 per cent increase in stroke-related emergency calls that saved hundreds of lives.

“Our aim in the short-term is to increase awareness of key warning signs and the need to ring 999 after stroke by at least 50 per cent,” adds Dr Brown. “But ultimately we want the FAST message to be ingrained into everyone from a young age so that nobody has to die because they couldn’t spot a stroke or didn’t know that it was an emergency.”

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