A stroke occurs when blood supply to part of the brain is cut off, killing blood cells.
The severity of a stroke and its associated effects can vary depending on where in the brain it takes place and how large an area is damaged.
There are 2 main types of strokes
- ischaemic – where the blood supply is stopped because of a blood clot, accounting for 85% of all strokes
- haemorrhagic – where a weakened blood vessel supplying the brain bursts
A related condition known as a transient ischaemic attack (TIA) occurs where the blood supply to the brain is temporarily interrupted, it can last for between a few minutes and 24 hours. A TIA is also known as a mini-stroke, and whilst not as severe should be treated urgently as they are often a warning sign of a future stroke.
Causes of a stroke
The narrowing and hardening of the arteries as we age and the increased likelihood that they will become blocked is the principle cause of a stroke. However conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol and irregular heartbeats (atrial fibrillation) all increase the risk of having a stroke. Lifestyle factors such as smoking, heavy drinking, poor diet and a lack of exercise can all also increase the chance of a stroke.
The main symptoms of a stroke can be remembered with the word FAST.
- Face: Can the person smile? Has their face fallen on one side?
- Arms: Can the person raise both arms and keep them there?
- Speech problems: Can the person speak clearly and understand what you say? Is their speech slurred?
- Time: If you see any of these three signs, it's time to call 999.
Other symptoms may include sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body, including legs, hands or feet. Difficulty finding words or speaking in clear sentences. Sudden blurred vision or loss of sight in one or both eyes. Sudden memory loss or confusion, and dizziness or a sudden fall. A sudden, severe headache. If any of these symptoms are spotted call 999 immediately.
Stroke patients will be conveyed by ambulance to the stroke unit at their nearest acute hospital where they will be evaluated by a team of multi-disciplinary specialists including consultant stroke physicians, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech and language therapists.
Some people may recover quickly from a stroke, however others will need long-term support and rehabilitation to help them regain as much independence as possible. The recovery process is dependent upon the symptoms and the severity of the stroke. More detailed information on stroke recovery within Surrey can be found on the Stroke Association website.