“A stroke is a serious medical condition that occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off”
Although a stroke is a disease of the brain, it can affect the entire body. A common disability that results from a stroke is complete paralysis on one side of the body, called hemiplegia. A related disability that is not as debilitating as paralysis is one-sided weakness or hemiparesis. Stroke may cause problems with thinking, awareness, attention, learning, judgment, and memory. Stroke survivors often have problems understanding or forming speech. A stroke can lead to emotional problems. Stroke patients may have difficulty controlling their emotions or may express inappropriate emotions. Many stroke patients experience depression. Stroke survivors may also have numbness or strange sensations. The pain is often worse in the hands and feet and is made worse by movement and temperature changes, especially cold temperatures.
In a healthy artery, the lining of the artery wall is smooth. This lets blood flow freely from the heart. The heart is a pump. It sends oxygen-rich blood out through blood vessels called arteries. The brain gets all the blood it needs to function well.
High blood pressure or other problems can roughen artery walls. This allows plaque to build up in the walls. Blood clots may also form on the plague. This can narrow the artery and limit blood flow.
Why do strokes happen?
Like all organs, the brain needs the oxygen and nutrients provided by blood to function properly. If the supply of blood is restricted or stopped, brain cells begin to die. This can lead to brain damage and possibly death.
Strokes are a medical emergency and prompt treatment is essential because the sooner a person receives treatment for a stroke, the less damage is likely to happen.
“If you suspect that you or someone else is having a stroke, phone 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance.”
Types of Stroke
There are two main causes of strokes:
- ischaemic (accounting for over 80% of all cases) – the blood supply is stopped due to a blood clot
- haemorrhagic – a weakened blood vessel supplying the brain bursts and causes brain damage
There is also a related condition known as a transient ischaemic attack (TIA), where the supply of blood to the brain is temporarily interrupted, causing a ‘mini-stroke’. TIAs should be treated seriously as they are often a warning sign that a stroke is coming.
Who is at risk from stroke?
In England, strokes are a major health problem. Every year over 150,000 people have a stroke and it is the third largest cause of death, after heart disease and cancer. The brain damage caused by strokes means that they are the largest cause of adult disability in the UK.
People over 65 years of age are most at risk from having strokes, although 25% of strokes occur in people who are under 65. It is also possible for children to have strokes.
Risks of Stroke within the BME Communities
If you are South Asian, African or Caribbean, your risk of stroke is higher. This is partly because of a predisposition (a natural tendency) to developing diabetes and heart disease, which are two conditions that can cause strokes.
Please refer http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Stroke/Pages/Introduction.aspx. It has been well documented that people from BME communities have a high representation of health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension when compared to their white counterparts. This means that they run a higher risk of suffering stroke. People of African and Caribbean origin are at increased risk of having a stroke, and the number of people affected by the condition is higher among this ethnic group than any other.
According to the Stroke Association, another issue facing BME communities is that stroke occurs at a younger age. Stroke is the third most common cause of death and the largest cause of disability in the UK. The impact of stroke can be devastating for families and friends, and can be long term. It is essential that these facts are brought to the attention of BME communities so that they are well informed to take the appropriate preventative measures, and are able access the right services once stroke has occurred. http://www.afiya-trust.org/index.php/our-work/long-term-conditions/173-stroke-awareness-project.html.
Sickle cell disease, diabetes and high blood pressure are conditions that can lead to stroke. They occur more frequently in people of African and Caribbean descent. All of them can be treated, which in turn will lessen your risk of stroke. http://www.stroke.org.uk/factsheet/stroke-african-caribbean-people.
Smoking, being overweight, lack of exercise and a poor diet are also risk factors for stroke. Also, conditions that affect the circulation of the blood, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, atrial fibrillation (an irregular heartbeat) and diabetes, increase your risk of having a stroke.Read more about the causes of stroke. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Stroke/Pages/Introduction.aspx
- Recurrent stroke is frequent; about 25 percent of people who recover from their first stroke will have another stroke within 5 years.
- Every four minutes someone dies of stroke.
- About 40 percent of stroke deaths occur in males, and 60 percent in females.
- Strokes can and do occur at ANY age. Nearly one quarter of strokes occur under the age of 65.
- The risk of stroke more than doubles each decade after the age of 55.
- In one second 32,000 brain cells die, in 59 seconds an ischemic stroke will have killed 1.9 million brain cells.
- Ischemic strokes, which occur when blood clots block the blood vessels to the brain, are the most common type of stroke, representing about 87% of all strokes.
- Up to 70% of strokes seen in the hospital are ischemic, while the remaining 30% are a mixture of transient ischemic attacks and hemorrhagic strokes.
- 80% of strokes are preventable as per http://www.strokeinfo.org/signsandsymptoms/stroke-facts/
Treating a stroke
Treatment depends on the type of stroke you have, including which part of the brain was affected and what caused it. Most often, strokes are treated with medicines. This generally includes drugs to prevent and remove blood clots, reduce blood pressure and reduce cholesterol levels. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Stroke/Pages/Introduction.aspx.
“The damage caused by a stroke can be widespread and long-lasting. Some people need to have a long period of rehabilitation before they can recover their former independence, while many will never fully recover.”
In some cases, surgery may be required. This is to clear fatty deposits in your arteries or to repair the damage caused by a haemorrhagic stroke. Read more about treating stroke.
Life after a stroke
Damage caused by a stroke can be widespread and long-lasting. Some people need to have a long period of rehabilitation before they can recover their former independence, while many will never fully recover.
The process of rehabilitation will be specific to you, and will depend on your symptoms and how severe they are. A team of specialists are available to help, including physiotherapists, psychologists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and specialist nurses and doctors.
The damage that a stroke causes to your brain can impact on many aspects of your life and wellbeing, and depending on your individual circumstances, you may require a number of different treatment and rehabilitation methods.
Read more about recovering from a stroke
Can strokes be prevented?
Strokes can usually be prevented through a healthy lifestyle. Eating a healthy diet, taking regular exercise, drinking alcohol in moderation and not smoking will dramatically reduce your risk of having a stroke. Lowering high blood pressure and cholesterol levels with medication also lowers the risk of stroke substantially. Read more about preventing stroke.
The main symptoms of stroke can be remembered with the word FAST: Face-Arms-Speech-Time.
- Face – the face may have dropped on one side, the person may not be able to smile or their mouth or eye may have dropped
- Arms – the person with suspected stroke may not be able to lift one or both arms and keep them there because of arm weakness or numbness
- Speech – their speech may be slurred or garbled, or the person may not be able to talk at all despite appearing to be awake
- Time – it is time to dial 999 immediately if you see any of these signs or symptoms
Read more about the symptoms of stroke. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Stroke/Pages/Introduction.aspx or watch the video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpR5_LQCyzk.