Strokes are life-threatening emergencies that require urgent medical attention. The earlier somebody suffering from a stroke receives medical treatment, the less damage is likely to be caused to their body. Sadly, strokes are a common problem in our ageing population, as your chances of stroke increase with age.
Today's blog post takes a closer look at strokes. We'll be discussing the causes, symptoms, treatment options and recovery. We'll also look at the best ways of lowering your chances of suffering a stroke in the future.
If someone you know has recently suffered a stroke, you may be interested in this article: 5 Things To Do After Your Parent Has a Stroke.
UK Stroke Statistics
Strokes occur when the blood supply to part of your brain is cut off. Blood provides your brain with essential nutrients and oxygen. Therefore, without blood, your brain cells can be damaged or even die. A stroke can change the way your body works as well as how your feel, think and communicate.
The statistics for strokes here in the UK are quite concerning. Did you know that:
"There are more than 100,000 strokes in the UK each year; that's around one stroke every five minutes. In fact, having a stroke is the fourth single leading cause of death in the UK." - Stroke Association.
The average age for men in England, Wales and Northern Ireland to have a stroke is 74, a figure which drops to 71 in Scotland. For women, the average age in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is 80, a figure which drops to 76 in Scotland. Overall, people over 55 are more likely to suffer a stroke than their younger counterparts.
Here are some more facts and figures:
- Stroke is a leading cause of disability in the UK, with around two thirds of all survivors being left with a disability.
- Stroke is the third-largest cause of death in the UK.
- Almost 38,000 people died of a stroke in the UK in 2016.
- There are over 400 childhood cases in the UK each year.
- Black people are twice as likely to have a stroke, compared to white people.
- Around one in four stroke survivors will experience another stroke within five years.
- One in 20 stroke patients have another stroke whilst still in hospital.
- A third of stroke survivors experience depression.
- More people are surviving stroke than ever before, with over 1.2 million survivors in the UK.
There are two main types of strokes, which are defined by their different causes.
- Ischaemic stroke - When a blood clot blocks blood supply. This accounts for 85% of all cases.
- Haemorrhagic stroke - When a blood vessel supplying the brain bursts and bleeds into and around the brain.
There are a number of reasons why blockages can form and cause an ischaemic stroke. This normally occurs when fatty deposits have narrowed and hardened the arteries. These fatty deposits can be caused by smoking, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, and excessive alcohol intake.
Heart conditions such as atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat) can also trigger blood clots in your heart. These blood clots can break-up, escape and become lodged in the blood vessels which supply your brain.
On the other hand, the main trigger for a haemorrhagic stroke is high blood pressure. This weakens the arteries in the brain and makes them prone to splitting. Again, lifestyle choices such as smoking, drinking, a lack of exercise, and a bad diet can increase the risk of high blood pressure.
Other causes of haemorrhagic strokes include:
- Aneurysms - A weak spot on an artery, where the walls have become thin and weak - meaning that they can burst easily.
- Cerebral amyloid angiopathy - When a protein called amyloid builds up inside the blood vessels in the brain, causing damage and torn blood vessels.
- Illegal Drugs - Cocaine, for example, which can irritate blood vessel walls. This causes them to become weaker and more likely to rupture.
The symptoms of a stroke usually begin very suddenly. The symptoms you experience will depend on which part of your brain is affected, and the extent of the damage. You can remember the main symptoms of stroke using the word F.A.S.T:
- Face - The person affected may be unable to smile and their face may have dropped on one side, with their mouth or eye drooping.
- Arms - The person affected may be unable to lift both arms and keep them there due to weakness in one arm.
- Speech - The person affected may slur their speech, or might be unable to talk at all.
- Time - Don't waste any time! Dial 999 immediately if you notice any of these symptoms.
Other symptoms include sudden weakness or numbness down one side of your body, sudden blurry vision or loss of sight in one or both eyes, a sudden, severe headache, and sudden memory loss or confusion.
If your symptoms only last for a short period of time, no longer than 24 hours, you may be suffering from a transient ischaemic attack (TIA). A TIA is a mini-stroke. Although the symptoms don't last as long, you still need to seek medical attention. A mini-stroke is a warning that there is a problem with the blood supply to your brain. Therefore, you're at a higher risk of having a stroke in the near future.
If you spot any of these signals, you need to call for help straight away. If you are worried about strokes - particularly if you live by yourself - you should consider getting a pendant alarm. With a Lifeline pendant, you can call for help with the touch of a button. In cases of stroke, mere seconds can make all the difference.
Upon arrival at the hospital, you'll likely be admitted to an acute, or hyper-acute, stroke unit. Doctors will want to know as much as possible about the symptoms you experienced. They will carry out several tests to help confirm your stroke diagnosis.
- Blood tests to determine your blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
- Blood pressure measurement.
- Checking your pulse for an irregular heartbeat.
- Swallow tests.
Brain scans (CT and/or MRI) will also be carried out to determine if the stroke has been caused by a blocked artery or a burst blood vessel, which part of the brain has been affected and how severe the stroke is. This brain scan will usually take place within an hour of you arriving at the hospital.
The quicker your stroke is diagnosed and treated, the better your recovery will be. The course of treatment you receive will depend on the type of stroke that you have suffered: an ischaemic stroke or a haemorrhagic stroke.
Treatment for Ischaemic Strokes
For the former, a combination of medication is used to treat the condition and prevent it from happening again. The most common type of treatment for this type of stroke is known as thrombolysis.
This involves the injection of alteplase, which dissolves blood clots and restores blood flow to your brain. The sooner this is started, the more effective it can be. However, if more than 4.5 hours have passed since the stroke, it's not clear how beneficial this is.
Some cases can be treated by using an emergency procedure known as thrombectomy. This removes blood clots and helps to restore blood flow to the brain. This is only effective at treating ischaemic strokes.
Other treatment for an ischaemic stroke includes:
- Antiplatelets - to reduce the chances of another clot forming.
- Anticoagulants - to prevent blood clots by changing the chemical composition of your blood.
- Antihypertensives - to lower your blood pressure if it is too high.
- Statins - to reduce the level of cholesterol in your blood.
- Carotid endarterectomy - Surgery to unblock any blocked arteries.
Treatment for Haemorrhagic Strokes
After a haemorrhagic stroke, you may need emergency surgery to remove any blood from the brain and to repair any burst blood vessels. This is usually done using a surgical procedure known as a craniotomy.
During this procedure, a section of the skull is cut away to allow the surgeon access to the cause of the bleeding. The surgeon will repair any damaged blood vessels and ensure that there are no blood clots present. After the bleeding has been stopped, the piece of bone removed from the skull is replaced, often by an artificial metal plate.
Surgery may also be offered to treat a complication of this type of stroke, known as hydrocephalus. This occurs when the damage caused by a stroke leads to a build-up of cerebrospinal fluid in the cavities of the brain.
As with ischaemic strokes, some people who have had a haemorrhagic stroke will also be offered medication to lower their blood pressure and prevent further strokes.
After immediate treatment is complete, you may need further short-term treatment to help manage some of the problems caused by the stroke. Examples of such treatment include:
- A feeding tube inserted into your stomach through your nose. This will provide nutrition if you have difficulty swallowing.
- Fluids from a drip if you're at risk of dehydration.
- Nutritional supplements if you're malnourished.
- Oxygen given through a nasal tube or face mask if your levels are low.
- Compression stockings to prevent blood clots in your legs.
Recovering from a Stroke
- Communication and Cognitive.
- Nutritional and Hydration Status.
- Pressure Area Risk.
The team on your stroke unit will include different health professionals with specialist training and experience in strokes. Teams can include physiotherapists, psychologists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and dietitians.
You will have daily sessions with your therapists to help you to relearn any skills that you may have lost and to build up your confidence.
Living a healthy lifestyle is the best way of reducing your chances of a stroke. In particular, you should follow these three simple steps:
- Stop smoking - Smoking narrows your arteries and makes your blood more likely to clot.
- Cut down or quit alcohol - Excessive drinking can lead to high blood pressure and can trigger an irregular heartbeat.
- Consume a balanced diet - An unhealthy diet can lead to high blood pressure and high levels of cholesterol. A low-fat, high-fibre diet is recommended.
"For most people, at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as cycling or fast walking, every week is recommended."
If you're changing your lifestyle habits following a stroke, you should discuss any potential exercise plans with your rehabilitation team. It's important to ensure that you're not pushing too hard too soon. Regular exercise may not be possible in the first weeks or months after a stroke.
How Lifeline24 Can Help
The thought of having a stroke (or any kind of medical emergency) can be very distressing. As we get older, health is often a growing concern, especially for those of us who live alone. That's where a Lifeline alarm can make all the difference. Our life-saving service gives you and your loved ones total peace of mind. You can carry on living independently at home, safe in the knowledge that help will always be there when you need it. If you were to suffer a stroke, you would simply need to press the button on your pendant. Our 24/7 Emergency Response Team would immediately call the emergency services as well as your chosen emergency contacts.
If you have suffered from a stroke, you qualify for VAT Exemption when purchasing a personal alarm. VAT exemption is also available to anyone who has a long-term medical condition or disability. This represents more than 90% of our customers. Therefore, you are very likely to pay no VAT whatsoever on your new Lifeline alarm.
Editor's Note: This article was updated on 16th March 2022 to reflect current information.