Open Access Research article

Response to symptoms of stroke in the UK: a systematic review

Jan Lecouturier1, Madeleine J Murtagh2, Richard G Thomson1, Gary A Ford3, Martin White1, Martin Eccles1 and Helen Rodgers3*

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Health and Society, Medical School, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

2 Medical and Social Care Education, Leicester University, Leicester, UK

3 Institute for Ageing and Health (Stroke Research Group), Medical School, Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Health Services Research 2010, 10:157  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-10-157

Published: 8 June 2010



The English National Stroke Strategy suggests that there is a need to improve the response of patients and witnesses to the symptoms of acute stroke to increase rapid access to specialist care. We wished to review the evidence base regarding the knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of stroke patients, witnesses and the public to the symptoms of stroke and the need for an urgent response at the onset of symptoms.


We conducted a systematic review of UK articles reporting empirical research on a) awareness of and response to the symptoms of acute stroke or TIA, and b) beliefs and attitudes about diagnosis, early treatment and consequences of acute stroke or TIA. Nine electronic databases were searched using a robust search strategy. Citations and abstracts were screened independently by two reviewers. Data were extracted by two researchers independently using agreed criteria.


11 studies out of 7144 citations met the inclusion criteria. Methods of data collection included: postal survey (n = 2); interview survey (n = 6); review of hospital documentation (n = 2) and qualitative interviews (n = 1). Limited data reveal a good level of knowledge of the two commonest stroke symptoms (unilateral weakness and speech disturbance), and of the need for an emergency response among the general public and at risk patients. Despite this, less than half of patients recognised they had suffered a stroke. Symptom recognition did not reduce time to presentation. For the majority, the first point of contact for medical assistance was a general practitioner.


There is an assumption that, in the UK, public knowledge of the symptoms of stroke and of the need for an emergency response is lacking, but there is little published research to support this. Public awareness raising campaigns to improve response to the symptoms of stroke therefore may not produce an increase in desired behaviours. Further research is needed to understand why people who experience or witness stroke symptoms frequently do not call emergency services.