Strokes are much more common in people aged over 60 so it is important to be able to recognise the signs of a stroke. A stroke is a serious condition that is caused by a temporary blockage in the supply of blood to the brain; as a result the brain does not get the oxygen and nutrients it needs from the blood. Strokes must always be treated as a medical emergency, if you think you are having a stroke or somebody you are with is having a stroke, call 999 as quickly as possible.
What causes a stroke?
A stroke is caused by a disruption in the blood supply to the brain; this is usually either caused by the formation of a blood clot which blocks an artery (ischaemic stroke) or the rupture of a blood vessel inside the brain (haemorrhagic stroke). As we age, our arteries become narrower, which can increase the likelihood of a clot forming in the artery and causing a stroke; however, there are also a number of other risk factors that can contribute to strokes; these include:
- Being overweight
- Drinking excessively
- Eating a diet high in salt and cholesterol
- Family history
- Atrial fibrillation (this is a condition which causes the heart beat to flip into an irregular rhythm- it can be caused by other heart conditions including cardiomyopathy and pericarditis, as well as high blood pressure, heavy drinking and a high caffeine intake)
Symptoms of a stroke
Being able to spot the signs of a stroke could save a person’s life; if you spot any of the signs call 999 immediately:
- FACE: has the person’s face dropped on one side or have their eyes or mouth dropped?
- ARMS: can the person lift their arms?
- SPEECH: can the person speak? Is their speech slurred?
- TIME: if the symptoms above are visible, it’s time to ring for help. Call 999 and stay with the patient until help arrives; if the patient has stopped breathing you should prepare to give them CPR.
Additional symptoms may also include dizziness, fatigue, headaches, blurred vision and problems with speech.
Treatment after a stroke
Initial treatment for ischaemic strokes usually involves medicines that are designed to break down blood clots. Haemorrhagic strokes usually require surgical treatment to repair damaged vessels and remove excess blood from the brain; this procedure is known as a craniotomy. Some people will recover fully after a stroke but others may be left with debilitating conditions, which will change the way they live the rest of their lives. Long-term treatment for strokes usually involves medication, which is designed to stabilise blood pressure, reduce cholesterol and prevent another stroke from occurring.