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Causes and signs of a stroke

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How to identify the signs

It is crucial to act fast when you notice even just one of the signs of a stroke. Responding quickly may help to save yours or a loved one’s life, or help to limit the potential long-term effects.

A stroke happens when the blood supply to the brain is restricted or stopped, causing brain cells to die. It can lead to disability, brain injury and possibly even death.

Experiencing a stroke is serious and life-threatening. But the damage can be lessened if you seek medical treatment urgently.


Signs of a stroke

An easy way to remember the warning signs of a stroke is to remember the word FAST: Face, Arms, Speech and Time.

The following essential checks could help you or a loved one if you suspect a stroke:

Face

Has the face dropped to one side – maybe the mouth or eye? You may notice that the person is unable to smile evenly on both sides.

Arms

Is there difficulty in lifting both arms in the air and keeping them there? You are looking for signs of numbness or weakness in one arm.

Speech

Has speech become garbled or slurred? Maybe the person is unable to speak at all, even though they seem to be awake.

Time

If you notice even one of these signs then it’s time to call 999. A stroke is an emergency and it is essential to be treated urgently to reduce the impacts.


What causes a stroke?

For the brain to function properly, as with all organs, it needs the oxygen and nutrients that are provided by blood. Once this flow of blood to the brain is restricted or stopped, blood cells will begin to die. This is what causes a stroke.

There are two types of stroke and they both have different causes:

Ischaemic stroke

This type of stroke is when a blood clot stops the blood supply to the brain. It is the most common form of stoke and accounts for 85% of all cases.

Fatty deposits in the arteries cause the arteries to narrow or become blocked, which in turn causes the blood clots that cause an ischaemic stroke.

This narrowing of the arteries does happen naturally as you get older. However, there are things that can accelerate this narrowing process.

These main causes of ischaemic stroke are:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol levels
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Excessive drinking of alcohol
  • An irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation) causing blood clots in the heart, which then escape to the brain

A transient ischaemic attack (TIA), commonly known as a mini-stroke, is when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted on a temporary basis. Despite being temporary (often lasting between a few minutes or several hours), a TIA can be a warning sign of a full stroke and should be treated urgently.

Haemorrhagic stroke

Although not as common as ischaemic strokes, a haemorrhagic stroke is caused when a weakened blood vessel, one that supplies blood to the brain, bursts. This is mainly caused by high blood pressure.

There are certain things that increase the risk of a haemorrhagic stroke:

  • Being obese or overweight
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol
  • Little or no exercise
  • Stress

How is a stroke treated?

The medical treatment you receive after a stroke depends on the type of stroke you have. It also relies upon what caused the stroke and which part of the brain was affected.

Most of the time, a stroke is treated with medication to reduce both blood pressure and cholesterol, and also to prevent and dissolve blood clots.

There are some cases when a medical procedure may be required to remove the blood clots. For haemorrhagic strokes, surgery may also be needed to reduce the risk of more bleeding and maybe also to treat brain swelling.


Recovery and stroke aftercare

If you, or a loved one, has experienced a stroke, you are likely to experience long-term problems, caused by the resulting damage to the brain.

Rehabilitation may be needed before reclaiming the independence you once had. However, there are many people who don’t fully recover and need extra support to adjust to life after a stroke. It’s worth speaking to your local authority as they may provide extra support to help with recovery.

You may decide you need some additional support at home to support with independent living. While some rely on the support of close family members or friends after a stroke, a trained carer can offer dedicated assistance, either through regular care visits or through live-in care.

Stroke aftercare may involve support with personal care, housekeeping, preparing meals and even provide companionship and assistance in getting out and enjoying your hobbies and interests.

It may also involve helping with regular strengthening exercises or other exercises included in your recovery plan, helping you learn or relearn skills and actions that will ultimately aid in your independence.


How to reduce the risk

By leading a healthy lifestyle, you can significantly reduce the risk of experiencing a stroke. If you have experienced a stroke in the past, there will be a bigger risk of having another so it’s especially important to follow this type of lifestyle as there will be a bigger risk of having another.

You can reduce the risk of a stroke by:

  • Eating a healthy and balanced diet
  • Regularly exercising
  • Not smoking
  • Limiting alcohol

Some medical conditions can increase the likelihood of a stroke, so it’s important to manage these effectively. For example, if you have high blood pressure or cholesterol, these can be lowered by using medication.


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