Let’s talk about Stroke

Every five minutes someone in the UK has a stroke. Although it’s more likely to hit if you’re over 55, one in four strokes happen to people who are younger. And, whilst it’s rare, it can even happen in children.

So what exactly is a stroke?

A stroke occurs when the blood flow to the brain is blocked. Deprived of oxygen, brain cells die – so fast action is a must. The quicker someone gets medical attention, the better their chance of survival.

Think FAST to recognise the symptoms.

Facial weakness: Can the person smile? Has their mouth or eye drooped?

Arm weakness: Can the person raise both arms?

Speech problems: Can the person speak clearly and understand what you say?

Time to call 999: if you see any of these signs.

Different types of stroke

Although we use the blanket term stroke, there are two different types. Ischaemic, is the most common and happens when a fatty deposit in the arteries breaks off and causes a blood clot. Less common (accounting for around 15%) is a haemorrhage – basically, when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. High blood pressure can be a key trigger, so it’s important that we do everything we can to keep our blood pressure down.

The mini stroke

You might have heard of a TIA (Transient Ischemic Attack) also known as a ‘mini stroke’. This is due to a temporary blockage. It doesn’t cause permanent brain damage, but can increase your chance of having a full stroke.

Am I at risk?

Sadly, a stroke can happen to anyone at any time but some people are more susceptible. Family history can play a part. If your brother, sister, parent or grandparent has had a stroke, you’re risk is likely to be higher. Ethnicity can also be a factor as higher instances have been found in people who are South Asian, African or Caribbean.

What can I do to prevent a stroke?

Whilst we can’t change our family history or ethnicity, there are plenty of steps we can take to reduce our risk. A fatty diet can lead to high blood pressure and high cholesterol.  So up the fibre and eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. Five a day is your friend. As well as being delicious, making a few changes to your diet will bring a host of other health benefits too. And you’ll soon notice a difference in how you look and feel.

Drinking too much alcohol can trigger high blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat, too. That’s not to say you need to give up a nice glass of Shiraz, but everything in moderation. Smoking is the big look-out. It significantly increases your risk as it narrows the arteries, which makes your blood more likely to clot. Help is at hand if you want to give up – we’ve popped details at the end.

What are the effects of a stroke?

This really varies from person to person, as it depends what part of the brain was affected. A stroke usually affects one side of the brain, yet it’s the other side of the body where the change will manifest. So, if the damage happened in the left side of the brain it’s the right side where paralysis would occur.

Physical symptoms of a stroke

As well as possible paralysis, sufferers may have muscle weakness, stiffness, changes in balance and loss of feeling. They can be less sensitive to temperature, so extra care has to be taken when washing. Almost three quarters of sufferers have some leg weakness, and more than three quarters report arm weakness. Foot drop is a common condition, because the muscle that usually lifts your foot when you’re walking isn’t strong enough. This means you end up scuffling or dragging your foot, which can make you more likely to trip or fall.

The effect on other parts of the body

A stroke can also affect other parts of the body. There can be changes in vision. Not just in terms seeing less clearly, but the ability to judge distance. Changes with hand-eye co-ordination, and in eating and swallowing caused by paralysis in the mouth, throat or tongue. Nerve damage can result in loss of control over bladder and bowel functions. And muscle weakness, or paralysis, can impact on the ability to engage in sexual activity.

Communication problems and stroke fatigue

Brain trauma can also make communication difficult. Aphasia affects not only your ability to speak, but also to understand language – and to read and write. Loss of control in the muscles in the face can make it difficult to use the throat and mouth properly, so speech can sound slurred.  Post stroke fatigue is also common. This is more than just tiredness – a good night’s sleep won’t make it go away. People can feel their whole body has been drained of all energy, so it’s really important to take things one day at a time to build up stamina.

Personality changes

People who have suffered a stroke can also experience stark changes in their personality. This goes way beyond physical damage or pain. A stroke is so sudden, so devastating, it’s a lot for anyone to process. There’s understandable frustration – or even anger – that can come from not being able to do things we all take granted each day.

Getting the right support

Not everyone fully recovers from a stroke but many people improve – and keep improving. Lives are rebuilt. But recovery isn’t something that happens overnight. It can take weeks, months or even longer. Rehabilitation is the key and can start from as soon as 24 hrs after a stroke. Your GP will be able to refer you to a team who can help.

When someone you love faces something as profound as this it can take its toll, so get all the support you can. Contact your Local Authority to find out the funding that’s available to you. They can talk you through benefits such as Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Disability Living Allowance and funding for adjustments you may need for your home. Different local authorities have different assessment processes, so the first step is to get in touch.

Talk to us

We have a team of specialist carers and nursers – dedicated professionals, there to make life easier. If there’s anything we can do to help, please get in touch on 0800 668 1234 or email enquiries@betterhealthcare.co.uk.

Further help and information

Stroke Helpline: 0300 3300 740

Stroke Association

Stroke NHS

Giving up smoking

https://www.nhs.uk/better-health/quit-smoking/

Benefits and support if you’re disabled or have a health condition

Getting a Needs Assessment

https://www.stroke.org.uk/sites/default/files/policy_position_disability_benefits.pdf

Driving after a stroke