How to tell if you're having a stroke
Someone has a stroke every 5 minutes–that’s more than 100,000 strokes per year. A stroke is a medical emergency, and it’s the fourth single leading cause of death in the UK.
That’s why we’ve written this guide so you can learn what a stroke is, the symptoms, what causes it, how to prevent it, and how to act if you notice somebody having a stroke. Remember, the quicker you act, the more of the person you save.
What is a stroke?
A stroke is when the blood supply to part of the brain is restricted or cut off. This starves the brain of oxygen and essential nutrients it needs to function normally. When this occurs, the brain cells begin to die, leading to brain injury, disability or even death. That’s why it’s important to act as quickly as possible if you suspect a stroke.
There are two different types of strokes:
Ischaemic strokes are caused when the blood supply to the brain is stopped, typically due to a blood clot. These types of strokes account for around 85% of strokes, making it the most common type of stroke in the UK.
Haemorrhagic strokes are caused when a weakened blood vessel in the brain bursts.
There’s a related condition called a transient ischaemic attack (TIA), otherwise known as a ‘mini stroke’ where the blood supply to the brain is temporarily interrupted. This can last for a few minutes to 24 hours, and they should be treated with the same urgency as a regular stroke. When you have a TIA, this is often a warning sign that you’re at risk of having a full stroke in the near future.
What are the symptoms of a stroke?
To make the symptoms of a stroke easier to remember, think of the word FAST.
Face: The face may have drooped on one side and the person may not be able to smile.
Arms: The person may not be able to lift both arms and keep them raised.
Speech: Their speech may be slurred or confused, or they might not be able to talk at all. They may also have problems understanding what you’re saying to them.
Time: It’s time to dial 999 if you notice any of these signs and symptoms.
Who is more likely to have a stroke?
You’re more likely to have a stroke if you’re over the age of 55. However, about 1 in 4 strokes occur in younger people. Your family history also plays a part in your likelihood of developing a stroke, for example, if a close family member has had a stroke.
Others things like your ethnicity and medical history can affect your risk of having a stroke. If you’re South Asian, African or Caribbean, you’re at a higher risk of having a stroke due to the increased rates of diabetes and high blood pressure in these ethnic groups. If you’ve previously had a stroke, TIA or heart attack, you’re more likely to have a stroke, too.
How to reduce your risk of having a stroke
Reducing your risk of having a stroke starts with lifestyle changes. You should try to eat a healthy diet, frequently exercise, and avoid smoking and drinking too much alcohol. By adopting these changes you can reduce your risk of developing high blood pressure and high cholesterol, in addition to atherosclerosis, which is where your arteries become blocked with fatty substances.
A stroke is a medical emergency, and the consequences can be devastating. If someone you know is showing signs of a stroke, you must act quickly. If you are at a higher risk of having a stroke, for example you have had a mini stroke before, it’s essential that you take steps to live healthier to reduce your likelihood of having a regular stroke in the future.
Recognising the symptoms of a stroke and following the advice in this guide can drastically improve survival rate. If you need further information about strokes, visit the NHS, Stroke Association or the Brain Research UK website.