Awareness of FAST stroke signs has doubled in almost a decade in Canada

But recognition remains inadequate and unequal as stroke continues to rise

June is Stroke Month and Heart & Stroke is celebrating 10 years of raising awareness across the country around the importance of recognizing the FAST signs of stroke and the need to call 9-1-1 right away to get to the best hospital for stroke care. While progress has been made, more needs to be done to promote this life-saving information across the population.

In 2014 Heart & Stroke launched the FAST campaign as a simple and effective way to help Canadians recognize and remember the most common signs of stroke and know to take action right away: 

  • Face – is it drooping?
  • Arms – can you raise both?
  • Speech – Is it slurred or jumbled? 
  • Time to call 9-1-1 right away.

Recognizing the signs of stroke and acting quickly can mean the difference between life and death, or the difference between a better recovery and a lasting disability. 

Stroke continues to rise in Canada – more strokes are happening and more people are living with stroke due to the aging population and more younger people having strokes. Based on the latest analysis from a Heart & Stroke funded study there are now approximately 108,707 strokes each year in Canada. That is roughly one stroke every five minutes. According to the most current and complete prevalence data, almost one million people in Canada are now living with stroke. Stroke is a leading cause of adult disability.

“Since launching the FAST signs of stroke campaign awareness has increased significantly,” says Dr. Patrice Lindsay, Lead, Stroke Best Practices Strategy, Heart & Stroke. “Working with governments and corporate, community, and health partners and with the support of our donors we have amplified the messages across the country. But these messages need to be regularly repeated and targeted strategies are required to ensure they reach everyone.”

Heart & Stroke has been polling around recall of the FAST signs of stroke since the campaign launched. The results have clearly shown that while much progress has been made, not enough Canadians recognize the signs of stroke, and factors such as gender, age and place of birth affect awareness.

FAST campaign recall poll results reveal much progress

  • The number of Canadians who can name at least two FAST signs of stroke has doubled over the past almost ten years from two in 10 to over four in 10. 
  • Over the past three years alone the number of Canadians who can name at least two FAST signs of stroke has increased from three in 10 to more than four in 10.
  • Nearly six in 10 Canadians who have seen or heard the FAST campaign can name at least two of the FAST signs of stroke, compared to less than four in 10 of those are not aware of the campaign.

FAST campaign recall poll results highlight more still needs to be done

  • Three in 10 Canadians cannot name any of the FAST signs of stroke.
  • Currently nearly eight in 10 Canadians would call 9-1-1 right away if they witnessed someone experiencing a stroke. This number has hardly changed in the past almost 10 years and in fact in the last year it decreased slightly.
  • Awareness rates vary considerably across the country.

FAST awareness levels differ depending on gender, age, place of birth and race or ethnicity

  • Women are more aware of the FAST signs of stroke than men. 
  • Older Canadians are more familiar with the signs of stroke and more likely to take action.
  • Newcomers are significantly less aware of the FAST signs of stroke and less likely to call 9-1-1 right away compared with those born in Canada.
  • Many ethnically diverse communities are less likely to be familiar with the FAST signs of stroke.

Melissa Wing, 28, was at a goodbye party for a friend at the beach in Victoria BC, in summer 2023 when she experienced a stroke. “I grew up with two parents in emergency services who taught my brother and I from an early age the FAST acronym,” she says. Additionally, both she and her partner are first-aid certified, so when the right side of Melissa’s face began to droop for a few seconds, they knew to take it seriously. Melissa received excellent emergency care and has had a great recovery. She wants to share her story for several reasons: to let people know that stroke can happen to young people, to advocate for your health if something feels wrong and to reinforce the importance of learning the signs of stroke and calling 9-1-1.

“Time is brain when it comes to stroke and everyone has a role to play. It starts with someone recognizing the signs of stroke and calling 9-1-1,” says Dr. Michael Hill, neurologist, Calgary Stroke Program. “Emergency medical services, emergency department staff, stroke teams and all the other medical professionals play a vital role in early stroke management. So much progress has been made across the country coordinating stroke services and improving care, resulting in better outcomes but the first step is raising awareness among the general public.”

Heart & Stroke has been a key contributor to stroke advancements by funding research, raising awareness, driving change throughout stroke systems of care across the country, and advocating for improvements to health policy. 

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About Heart & Stroke

Life. We don’t want you to miss it. That’s why Heart & Stroke has been leading the fight to beat heart disease and stroke for 70 years. We must generate the next medical breakthroughs, so Canadians don’t miss out on precious moments. Together, with the generous support of our donors, partners, and volunteers, we are working to prevent disease, save lives and promote recovery through research, health promotion and public policy. @HeartandStroke

Contact information

Stephanie Lawrence
 613 290 4236