If you suffer a stroke you need fast assessment and recovery help from a specialist team to improve your chances of surviving and returning to independent living. However, stroke services in Britain are very variable.
What is stroke?
Stroke is a disruption of the blood supply to part of the brain. About 80 per cent of strokes are caused by a blood clot - known as ischaemic strokes - and 10 per cent by bleeding - haemorrhagic stroke. The cause of the remaining 10 per cent is unclear. It also possible to suffer a minor stroke - called a transient ischaemic attack - which lasts less than 24 hours and causes no lasting disability.
What's the prognosis?
about a third of victims recover completely, a third suffer disability, including paralysis of one side of the body and difficulties speaking and writing, and a third die within one year. After any stroke your chances of a repeat attack are significantly higher.
What are the symptoms?
They include headache, slurred speech, dizziness, loss of consciousness and loss of feeling in arms or legs, and can come on very suddenly. It is important to see a doctor immediately to determine the type of stroke and best treatment.
What should happen next?
Stroke may be treated at home or in hospital, but the important thing is to have a CT scan of the brain as soon as possible - even with a mini-stroke - to determine the type of attack. If it is ischaemic, taking aspirin daily reduces the chance of a further stroke by 25 per cent. If bleeding is the cause, aspirin should be avoided as it can increase chances of a repeat. Unfortunately, CT scans are not available everywhere in Britain. Without a scan, it is best to avoid aspirin. Prompt assessment to plan rehabilitation is also important (see below).
What is the best route to recovery?
Large scale studies show patients cared for by dedicated stroke units involving multi-disciplinary teams of specialist consultants, nurses, physio- and occupational therapists have significantly better chances of surviving, living independently and returning home than those looked after on general wards. Studies suggest stroke units cut the risk of dying within the first year by about 23 per cent and aid more rapid recovery. Physio- and occupational therapy can mean the difference between being able to live independently or not. Speech therapy helps whether offered immediately or after three months.