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What is a Stroke?

    Hello, in this article I want to talk to you about stroke. It's a bit of an odd name, stroke. It certainly has nothing to do with tennis strokes, swimming strokes or brush strokes. The word stroke comes from the idea receiving a 'strike' or 'blow' as that is how quickly strokes appear - all of a sudden people are struck by this illness. Did you know that every year more than 15 million people worldwide have a stroke? Of these, five million die and another five million are left disabled. Whilst most strokes occur in people over the age of 65 they can occur in much younger people too. But what exactly is a stroke? The brain, like all parts of the body, needs oxygen, which it gets from the blood. A stroke happens when blood flow to the brain is cut off. When brain cells are starved of oxygen, they become damaged, and the symptoms that follow are called a stroke. As the brain controls the whole body, the symptoms of a stroke can be wide-ranging, depending on which parts of the brain are affected. If the stroke occurs here, it would cause a drooping face, here, weakness in the arms or legs, or here, difficulty speaking. Other symptoms can happen too, like changes to vision, loss of balance, confusion and memory loss. The effects might be barely noticeable, but are more often severe and disabling. Sometimes these changes can be reversed if treatment is started early. That's why it is so important to act quickly if you suspect a stroke. Remember, you need to get help 'FAST'. F is for Face: is their face drooping on one side? Can they smile? A is for Arms: is there weakness in the arms? Can they lift them both up? S is for Speech: is their speech slurred? T is for Time: if you spot any one of these signs then it’s time to call an ambulance. Once the ambulance arrives at the hospital, a doctor will assess you and arrange an urgent scan of the head, which shows where the brain is damaged and what type of stroke has happened. Strokes are put into two groups depending on the problem in the blood vessels supplying the brain. There can either be a blockage (called an ischaemic stroke), or a bleed (called a haemorrhagic stroke). The majority of strokes are blockages. It's important to identify early on which sort of stroke has happened, as they each have very different treatments. Blockage strokes are commonly caused by the build-up of fatty material in blood vessels. This fatty build-up may lead to a clot which blocks the blood supply, just like in a heart attack. This is why a stroke can be thought of as a 'brain attack'. A clot may occur within the brain or it can travel from another part of the body, commonly the blood vessels in the neck. Clots can also travel from the heart, which may happen when you have an irregular heartbeat called ‘atrial fibrillation’, or A.F. If a blockage stroke is detected within the first few hours, a 'clot-busting' medication is sometimes given to dissolve the clot; this is called ‘thrombolysis’. If thrombolysis can’t be used, other medications, such as aspirin, will be given as treatment instead. Bleeding strokes happen when a blood vessel bursts suddenly, causing blood to leak in or around the brain. In these strokes, blood on the brain can lead to swelling; a serious problem which may require surgery in some cases. Sometimes, stroke symptoms completely disappear in less than 24 hours. This is called a mini-stroke or T.I.A. Often, symptoms only last a few minutes, but just like with a full-blown stroke you must go to hospital immediately if you suspect a T.I.A. This is because a T.I.A is a warning sign that you are at high risk of having a full stroke. Whether you have a T.I.A or a full stroke, daily medications are started and continued lifelong to help prevent further episodes. The effects of a stroke can be disabling, but given time, the brain can slowly adapt to recover some previously lost abilities. This is why stroke rehabilitation is so important. Rehab can be challenging, but many specialists are on hand to help alongside doctors and nurses If you stroke causes difficulty swallowing, dieticians can recommend special diets or feeding tubes. If you have problems with communication, speech and language therapists can help. If it has become difficult to walk or perform daily tasks, physiotherapists and occupational therapists can offer exercises and home adaptations. Also, after a stroke people often feel low or frustrated that they can’t do the things they used to, and don’t like being dependent on others. Counsellors can help talk through these feelings and many patient groups are available for further support. We've talked a lot about strokes, but what can we do to prevent them from happening? Even if you've already had a stroke in the past, there are many small steps we can all take to reduce our future risk of having a stroke, such as: lowering high blood pressure (the number one cause a stroke) stopping smoking lowering cholesterol being more active eating healthily lowering alcohol intake to within recommended limits if you have diabetes, keeping good control of blood sugar levels. In this article we've talked about what a stroke is, how to spot the key symptoms and the need to act 'FAST'. I hope this is helpful to you.
Thank you for reading.


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