Recognising a stroke

A stroke usually happens very suddenly, and can be life-threatening. You have to act fast to ensure successful treatment and recovery. But how do you recognise the signs of a stroke and respond correctly?

Around 16,000 people in Switzerland suffer a stroke every year. Around one in four sufferers is no longer able to lead an independent life following a stroke. A stroke may be caused by a narrowing of the carotid artery or cerebellar artery, a blockage in the blood vessels or a brain haemorrhage. Particularly at risk are people with high blood pressure or special forms of cardiac arrhythmia (atrial fibrillation). Factors such as alcohol, smoking and diabetes can also increase the risk of a stroke as they can damage the blood vessels. The risk of a stroke can also be hereditary, so people with a first degree relative (parent or sibling) who has had a stroke should be particularly aware of the risk and get themselves checked out.

Because every second counts when someone has a stroke, it’s very important to recognise the symptoms correctly. Acting quickly can save lives and prevent long-term disability. This also applies if the symptoms occur and then just disappear of their own accord.


How do I recognise the signs of stroke?

The symptoms of a stroke commonly include problems seeing, speaking or understanding, sudden loss of memory, paralysis and numbness, headache and dizziness. The symptoms can occur individually or in any combination.

Even if you have no medical knowledge you can do an easy test to check whether the symptoms indicate a stroke. If you suspect someone is having a stroke, ask them to

  • smile: Are both corners of their mouth in the same position or is one corner drooping?
  • lift their arms up to the side or in front of them. Can they raise both arms to the same height at the same time and hold them there?
  • to tap each finger once on their thumb. Can they do this as quickly as they could before?
  • play "piano" in the air: Is it more difficult on one side?
  • say a simple sentence. Do they speak as clearly as usual? A tongue-twister such as "She sells seashells..." will also indicate to an outsider whether speech is normal.


If they have problems with any one or more of these tasks you must call an ambulance immediately. Until the ambulance arrives, make sure the person’s lying comfortably with their upper body raised. They shouldn’t eat or drink anything, as a stroke can often lead to problems swallowing. It’s very important for family members to keep calm.

In the event of further health-related questions, SWICA customers can contact the santé24 telemedicine service free of charge on +41 44 404 86 86. A telemedicine practice licence allows santé24 physicians to provide additional medical services in cases that are suited to a telemedicine approach. SWICA customers can also use the BENECURA medical app to carry out a digital SymptomCheck and receive recommendations about what to do next. During a subsequent phone call with santé24, customers can decide for themselves whether to release their information from SymptomCheck to santé24.