STROKE - Affects all of us

 

 

STROKE AFFECTS US ALL – recognise the signs, symptoms and causes

 

Eileen Fegan, Clinical Director of Health Care at Solihull Health Check Clinic, previously held the position of Head of Stroke Services for Birmingham East and North Primary Care Trust.  In this article, Eileen explains the signs, symptoms, causes and effects of this devastating condition.

Every year in the UK, 120,000 people have their first Stroke and more than 30,000 people have a recurrent Stroke. Stroke will kill 53,000 people a year. Stroke is a leading cause of adult disability in the UK and costs the NHS more than £2.8 billion annually.  Stroke is the third biggest killer in the UK, after heart attacks and cancer.

 

Stroke is non-discriminatory and can affect absolutely anyone, from children through to adults of all ages.

 

A Stroke occurs in the brain. The World health Organisation in 2014, describes a Stroke as an interruption in the supply of oxygen to the brain.  There are 2 types of Stroke and they are called a) Haemorrhagic Stroke and b) Thrombotic/ischemic Stroke.  A Haemorrhagic Stroke, or bleeding in the brain, will affect 20% of the population and generally affects  younger people, whereas a Thrombotic or blood clot Stroke affects 80% of the population, who tend to be above 40 years of age.  The long term affects are the same for both types of Stroke.

 

The damage to the brain and the disability that the individual is left with depends on how quickly the Stroke is identified and managed by health professionals, as well as the part of the brain that the Stroke happens in.

 

So, what causes a Stroke to occur; Hypertension or high blood pressure is the biggest contributory factor causing a Stroke.  Hypercholesterolemia or high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, increased stress levels and high consumption of alcohol can all contribute to a Stroke occurring.  Unfortunately, there are 16 million people in the UK who suffer with high blood pressure. 8 million people know they have it and can manage it, whereas 8 million people are completely unaware of their high blood pressure and are therefore, at risk of suffering a Stroke. 

 

The effects of a Stroke can be devastating, from loss of speech (dysphasia), swallowing problems (dysphagia), walking/mobility, understanding and managing continence.  Depending on the area of the brain that is affected by the bleed or blood clot, depends on the deficits and disability experienced by the Stroke sufferer. 

 

The initial signs of a Stroke are usually typical, easily recognisable and can include weakness down one side of the body, a droopy mouth, loss of speech or slurred speech, loss of understanding and awareness and occasionally, a seizure.  The most important thing to do, if you suspect someone has had a Stroke, is to dial 999 and report that you suspect Stroke.  The ambulance will be despatched as a category A, which is Emergency level. The most important thing for the person suspected of having a Stroke, is to get to hospital within an hour and have a CT Scan (Computerised Tomography) or an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) within 3 hours.  If the Stroke is caused by a blood clot, then a Hyper-Acute Stroke Unit or HASU for short,  can administer a procedure called Thrombolysis, which will  “bust” the blood clot and allow the blood to start flowing through the brain again. The Thrombolysis procedure includes giving the patient an intravenous injection, to break down the blood clot quickly and prevent extensive oxygen deprivation in the brain, to reduce the long term disability and deficit.

 

If the blood supply to the brain is only briefly interrupted, a mini-stroke or Trans-Ischemic Attack can occur and will be resolved within 24 hours. The symptoms of a TIA are very similar to the symptoms of a Stroke, but last for 24 hours or less.  Even though it is a TIA, it is vital to seek medical attention, to prevent the risk of a full blown Stroke.  Research shows than in the 90 days following a mini-stroke, the risk of a full blown Stroke exceeds 10%.

 

Long term care for those affected by Stroke often involves 24 hour personal care, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and psychological counselling.  50% of Stroke survivors go on to develop depression within the first  12 months and may benefit from psychological input, to support them to accept the life changing and long lasting effect that a Stroke can bring.

 

Preventing a Stroke is obviously the best solution and the following will help;

  • If you smoke, give it up.  Smoking can cause clots that cause Stroke
  • If you are overweight, lose the extra pounds
  • Do as much exercise as possible and stay active
  • Maintain a healthy blood pressure
  • Keep your cholesterol level low

 

If you have been diagnosed with a Stroke caused by a blood clot, you may well be prescribed aspirin or warfarin, to prevent further Strokes and thin your blood.

 

A very helpful and useful organisation for those affected by Stroke is the Stroke Association at stroke.org.uk.  The support they provide is designed around the needs of the Stroke survivor and their families, in the days, weeks, months and years following the Stroke.

For more information on Stroke, you are welcome to contact Solihull Health Check Clinic on 1021 745 7400.


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