With pharmacists’ help, we could prevent up to half of all strokes

Lowri Griffiths, Head of Communications and External Affairs, Wales

I was quite shocked when I started working for the Stroke Association, at just how many strokes could be prevented.  I was even more shocked that about 40% of ischaemic strokes (those caused by a blockage of the blood supply to the brain) are caused by high blood pressure.

Within my first week, I had also discovered that people with a condition called Atrial Fibrillation (AF) are also five times more at risk of having a stroke.  But more alarmingly, AF strokes when they strike, are more likely to be life threatening and leave the sufferer with higher levels of disability.

Treat high blood pressure and manage AF to prevent up to half of all strokes – seems like a simple solution to a big problem!

Our relationship with pharmacists started last year when we worked on the second all Wales Pharmacy campaign, one of three per year run as a partnership between Public Health Wales, Community Pharmacy Wales, RPS and all the Health Boards in Wales.

Our 1 in 10 Diabetes and Stroke prevention campaign ran in all 714 pharmacies during September 2012.  The campaign was an overwhelming success.  Over 18,000 interventions and a quarter of those referred on to their GP for further assessment.  I hope that at least one person is stroke free as a result of the campaign – but as with all prevention messaging – you can never know for sure.

Our Action on Stroke month awareness programme takes place in May each year, and what better focus for our prevention work than a national campaign run in partnership with pharmacists focussing on the two biggest risk factors for stroke – high blood pressure and AF.

Pharmacies are brilliantly placed to spread the prevention messages around stroke and tying them into the Medicines Use Reviews mean that the campaign fits with work they are already doing to look after their patients.

To wrap up the campaign into one tidy bundle, we’re asking pharmacists to reinforce the FAST message – Facial weakness, Arm weakness, Speech problems, Time.   If all else fails and medication is not enough to prevent a stroke, it is vitally important that people get along to hospital without delay – it could be the difference between life and death.

Finally and most importantly, we need to ensure that the campaign leaves a legacy.    The beauty of this campaign is that the messaging can be used whenever an MUR is being carried out and we look forward to a long and sustained relationship with pharmacists in delivering effective stroke prevention messages to the public in Wales for many years to come.

Visit our website for more information stroke.org.uk or follow us on Twitter @StrokeAssocCym.  For pharmacists in Wales who want specific guidance on the campaign please visit the Community Pharmacy Wales website cpwales.org.uk