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Stroke: Prevention, Symptoms & How You Can Help

Posted in General Health 21 Apr, 2015

This is probably a blog post you hope you will never need, but the fact of the matter is that, according to the Stroke Association, stroke is the "fourth single largest cause of death in the UK, second in the world". Every year, stroke kills twice as many women as breast cancer does, and more men than prostate and testicular cancer combined. And those aren't the only facts we can rack up for you:

  • £48 per patient allocated to stroke research annually, compared to £241 per person on cancer research
  • On average, there is one stroke every 3 minutes 27 seconds in the UK
  • Approximately 1 in 60 people in the UK is a stroke survivor
  • 3 in 10 stroke survivors will have a recurrent stroke or TIA (transient ischemic attack)

This means the chances that a stroke will directly affect you at some point in your life, whether that applies to a loved one or you personally, are extremely high. The majority of us are familiar with the FAST mnemonic (see below) but do you know exactly what causes a stroke?

The types of stroke and their causes

The three types of stroke, ischemic, haemorrhagic and transient ischemic attack (TIA), all have similar causes. Simply put, a stroke is an interruption or reduction in the blood flow to the brain, resulting in lower oxygen levels. The typical outcome is a number of brain cells dying depending on the severity and length of the stroke. This can understandably have short-term and long-term effects, depending on how long the stroke lasted for.

Ischemic

The most common type of stroke, affecting approximately 85% of sufferers, ischemic occurs in the form of a blood clot causing a blockage and reduction in blood flow. It comes in two different forms, thrombotic and embolic.

Ischemic stroke risk factors

Haemorrhagic

Haemorrhagic strokes also come in two forms; intracerebral and subarachnoid. A intracerebral stroke occurs when a blood vessel within the brain bursts, whilst a subarachnoid stroke is due to a clogged artery near the surface of the brain.

Haemorrhagic stroke risk factors

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • Lack of exercise
  • High alcohol intake
  • Stress
  • Sporadic rises in blood pressure

Transient ischemic attack (TIA)

A transient ischemic attack is the smallest member of the stroke family, with symptoms that generally disappear quickly. However it is important to still seek emergency help. A TIA involves a temporary reduction in blood supply.

TIA stroke risk factors

  • Smoking
  • Obesity
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • High alcohol intake
  • Diabetes
  • Heart palpitations

Stroke symptoms

Here comes the mnemonic:

Face

Has one side of their face dropped, in particular their mouth?

Arms

Is it possible to lift both arms?

Speech

Do you understand everything they're saying? Does their speech sound slurred?

Time

Call for help as soon as possible when seeing these symptoms

What can you do?

For starters, don't panic. Easier said than done but if you take your time to compose yourself, this will benefit all parties involved. Here is your step-by-step guide to dealing with the immediate effects of stroke:

Stroke checklist

  • Call 999 for an ambulance.
  • Lay the individual down on their side on the ground, supporting their head and any limbs that appear to be unresponsive.
  • Don't give them any food or drink, including water, until the paramedics have arrived.
  • Remove anything that could be causing breathing difficulties including tight clothing, jewellery or headwear.
  • If they are unconscious, check breathing and pulse.
  • If they are unconscious and not breathing, begin CPR immediately.
  • If you can't do CPR, ring emergency services who will talk you through the procedure.

Dealing with a stroke, both immediately and in the aftermath, can be tough for everyone involved. However, having the knowledge and patience could not only aid the sufferer's recovery, but could possibly save their life.

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