Strokes - Spotting the Signs
We all know what a stroke looks like – right? Actually, it’s not always easy to recognise. But getting help quickly can hugely improve the chances of recovery, so quick action is crucial. Follow these simple tips and think FAST!
Stroke – what is it?
A stroke happens when part of your brain is deprived of blood. Usually this is because of a clot in one of the arteries carrying blood round your brain. Less commonly, it’s because of bleeding into part of the brain. The symptoms are similar, although treatment is different – but the doctors will work that bit out. Your bit is to get to a hospital!
Why such a wide variety of symptoms?
Your brain is beautifully designed, and each part plays its own special role. One part controls your arm, another your face; yet others co-ordination, understanding and so on. The symptoms of a stroke will depend on which part (and how much) of the brain has been affected. One side of the body is supplied by one side of the brain, so a big stroke could affect the arm and leg on the same side.
What should I look out for?
If you want to help someone having a stroke, think FAST and then act FAST! Remember, symptoms can vary from mild weakness to total paralysis of one part of the body.
- Face – drooping of part or all of one side of the face. Can they smile evenly? Are they drooling saliva?
- Arm weakness – can they raise both arms?
- Speech – strokes commonly affect the ability to speak clearly, even though the person is trying to pronounce words. They can also affect understanding, even if the person is conscious. A stroke can also affect the level of consciousness.
- Time - to call 999 fast!
Why the need for speed?
A stroke is a ‘brain attack’ in the same way that a clot blocking an artery supplying the heart muscle is a heart attack. Getting the patient to hospital quickly means they can have a brain scan (to confirm a clot has caused the stroke) and be given ‘clot-busting’ drugs to reduce the damage caused by the stroke. But these drugs have only a small ‘window of opportunity’ – a few hours at most.
What’s the treatment?
Treatment will be tailored to the symptoms. It can involve quite a long hospital stay, working with a team of physiotherapists (to help mobility); occupational therapists (to help with tasks of daily living, home adaptations etc); speech therapists (who can also help with swallowing); and social workers, as well as nurses and doctors.
Your loved one will also need to have their blood pressure, cholesterol etc controlled in the long term. Many of the risk factors for stroke are the same as those for heart attack, so this will help reduce the chance of heart disease, too.
What’s a TIA?
A TIA is sometimes called a ‘mini-stroke’ It causes the same symptoms as a stroke, but they go away without treatment within 24 hours. This could be because the clot breaks up quickly, so the blood and oxygen are restored; or it could happen because other arteries in the brain compensate, supplying the affected part of the brain with blood again.
Even though the symptoms go away quickly, having a TIA means you are at increased risk of having a stroke in the future, so it’s very important not to ignore it. Your doctor will want to keep your blood pressure and cholesterol under tight control to help you stay in top shape for a long time to come.
Infographic based on facts and figures from stroke.org.uk
With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine where this article was originally published.