A stroke is a life-threatening medical condition. Strokes occur when the blood supply to an area of the brain is cut off. This is often caused by a blocked artery, and urgent medical treatment is essential.
Strokes affect people of all ages, including children. However, they are most common in people over the age of 55. The most common age for men to have a stroke is 74, and the average age for women is 80.
A stroke isn’t something to be taken lightly. Strokes are the fourth single leading cause of death in the UK, but if an individual receives treatment quickly, the damage is likely to be reduced. The NHS recommends using the word ‘FAST’ to remember the main symptoms of a stroke.
Face: Has a person’s face dropped on one side? A good way to check this is to ask them to smile. If they are unable to raise both sides of their mouth, they may be experiencing a stroke.
Arms: Can the person lift up both their arms and keep them raised? If not, this is a good indicator that they are experiencing muscle weakness or numbness.
Speech: A person experiencing a stroke may have slurred or garbled speech. In fact, they may not be able to talk at all, even if they appear to be awake.
Time: If you see any of these symptoms, it’s time to call 999. The quicker a stroke is diagnosed and treated, the more likely it is that you will recover. If possible, it’s also useful to make a note of the time that the symptoms start.
This video, created by Public Health England, explains what to look out for.
Types of stroke
The most common type of stroke is an ischaemic stroke, which happens when the blood supply to a part of your brain is cut off. This deprives brain cells of essential nutrients and oxygen. Ischaemic strokes account for 85% of all strokes in the UK.
A second type of stroke is a haemorrhagic stroke. These are less common, but are often more severe. They occur when a weakened artery inside the brain bursts, causing bleeding within the brain.
You may also have heard of TIAs, or transient ischaemic attacks (TIA). These are known as mini-strokes, because the symptoms last for less than 24 hours.
Despite the term ‘mini-stroke’, TIAs should be treated as seriously as a full stroke, as there is no way of knowing whether someone is experiencing a TIA or a full stroke when symptoms begin. If you spot any of the symptoms of a stroke, call 999 straight away.
Certain medical conditions and lifestyle factors including high blood pressure and diabetes can increase the risk of having a stroke. To reduce your risk, the NHS recommends leading a healthy lifestyle, not smoking, and only drinking alcohol in moderation.
More people are surviving strokes than ever before, and there are over 1.2 million stroke survivors in the UK. However, survivors are often left with long-term problems or disability.
Strokes can have a number of lasting effects, including weakness in arms and legs, problems with speech, problems with memory and thinking, and eyesight problems. Rehabilitation can help people recover, but survivors may need additional support and care.
The Stroke Association can help survivors, relatives of survivors, and carers find help and support. Mobility products like wheelchairs may also be useful for an individual's recovery, by helping them move around and allowing them to regain their independence.