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The brain needs a constant blood supply to function. When a stroke happens, blood flow to part of the brain is cut off and brain cells are damaged or die. Strokes are sudden and have an immediate effect.
You can recognise a stroke using the FAST test
Facial weakness: can the person smile? Has their mouth or eye drooped?
Arm weakness: can the person raise both arms?
Speech: can the person speak clearly and understand what you say?
Time: time to call an ambulance if you see any one of these signs
Stroke is a medical emergency. Recognising the signs of a stroke and calling 999 for an ambulance is crucial. Responding quickly can help reduce the damage to the brain and improve the chances of full recovery.
There are two main types of stroke:
- Ischaemic strokes happen when something blocks an artery that carries blood to the brain. This is the most common type of stroke.
- Haemorrhagic strokes happen when a blood vessel bursts causing bleeding into the brain (haemorrhage). As well as disrupting the blood flow, the leaking blood puts pressure on the brain.
TIA stands for Transient Ischaemic Attack. A TIA is caused by a temporary interruption to the blood flow to the brain. TIA is similar to a stroke but the symptoms are temporary, lasting between a few minutes and 24 hours. A TIA is a warning sign that you may be at risk of having a stroke in the future. Repeated TIAs can start to affect your memory and other functions of your brain. As with major strokes, you should always get medical help urgently.
Every year about 150,000 people in the UK have a stroke. That's one person every five minutes.
Strokes can happen to anyone, but some groups have a higher risk of stroke:
- older people - most people who have a stroke are over 55, and the risk increases with age
- people who have had a stroke or Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA) in the past
- people of South Asian or African-Caribbean background
None of these factors mean that you will necessarily have a stroke, but it is useful to be aware if you are at increased risk so that you can take steps to live a healthier lifestyle.
There are simple lifestyle changes you can make to reduce the risk of stroke:
- Get your blood pressure checked regularly - high blood pressure can increase the risk of stroke.
- Control any health problems you may have -your GP can prescribe medications which can help control certain health conditions such as diabetes, depression or high cholesterol.
- If you drink alcohol, limit your intake - drinking too much alcohol can lead to a rapid increase in blood pressure which increases the risk of stroke.
- Stop smoking - smoking causes your arteries to become blocked and makes a blood clot more likely.
- Eat well - healthy eating helps keep your heart and bloodstream in good form. Being overweight increases your chances of high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, all of which can increase your chances of stroke.
- Exercise - Regular physical activity lowers your blood pressure and helps balance fats in your body. It can also help you to lose weight.
Strokes affect people in different ways. The effects of stroke depend on:
- what part of the brain was damaged
- how widespread the damage was
- how healthy the person was before the stroke
Strokes are sudden and have an immediate effect. A person may become numb, weak or unable to move one side of their body. They may slur their speech or find it difficult to find words or to understand others. Some people lose their sight or have blurred vision. Some people may become confused.
Strokes can affect the part of the brain that controls sensation and movement. This can cause:
- numbness, pins-and-needles, tingling or unusual sensitivity in the limbs
- weakness in the muscles of the body, often affecting one limb or one side of the body
- paralysis - being unable to move part of the body
- tightness, stiffness or pain in muscles (muscle spasticity)
- incontinence, constipation, or problems passing water
- difficulty in swallowing
After a stroke, you can have problems with your mental processes. These problems can include:
- attention and concentration
- making decisions
A neuropsychologist or occupational therapist will often carry out an assessment to see what cognitive (thinking) problems you may have. They can then identify strategies to help you manage these problems.
Stroke can cause psychological effects which have an impact on the way people feel, think or behave. The most common psychological effects following stroke are:
- apathy - lack of motivation or enthusiasm
- emotional lability - when someone is more emotional or has difficulty controlling their emotions
- personality changes
These changes happen partly because of damage to certain parts of the brain. They also happen as a result of someone adjusting to having had a stroke, and to their life being different to how it was before. Often people can feel anxious, depressed or frustrated after a stroke. These feelings are common and most people find they get better with time. Other people may find that they continue longer and they may need some support to feel better, such as counselling and peer support. You may find it useful to look at our page on Requesting mental health support.
You can go to our separate page on Recovering from stroke for more information.
One You Westminster and One You Kensington and Chelsea aim to help you get back to a healthier you, supporting you to make simple changes towards a longer and happier life. Providing stop smoking and cardiovascular services, Man vs Fat football clubs, as well as One You clubs enabling you to come together through healthy activities and helping you make healthy lifestyle choices.
Find out more about the service by calling on 020 3434 2500.
The Stroke Association are a charity organisation who support stroke survivors to make the best recovery they can. As well as providing information on all aspects of having a stroke, they give details of practical support and social clubs and groups in your area, and can offer grant payments to stroke survivors.
They also have a helpline - tel 0303 3033 100 / email firstname.lastname@example.org
The NHS website provides further information on strokes.
The Stroke Network are an online support organisation for people worldwide to share their experiences of surviving a stroke with others.
Kensington and Chelsea
If you live in Kensington and Chelsea then your council has produced a leaflet for people who have had a stroke and their carers called Getting back to everyday life.