National Stroke Awareness Month
You may have noticed a lot of campaigns regarding strokes around this month. That is because this month is “Action on Stroke” month, aiming to raise awareness for individuals who are at risk of strokes, have suffered from strokes, and to educate the population in recognising a stroke before it gets too serious.
Action on Stoke month has been running throughout May this year (2018) and is an annual awareness event arranged by various associations across the UK. The month is used to raise awareness of strokes and their impact on those who have had a stroke in the past. The main goal is to educate friends, family, and the public on the signs and symptoms of strokes, what causes can be linked to strokes, what happens during a stroke and what to do in the event of someone having a stroke in your presence.
What is a Stroke?
A stroke is an attack on the brain. Strokes happen when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off, which causes death of that part of the brain. The effects of the stroke vary depending on which part of the brain is affected and how severe the stroke is.
Strokes can also cause bleeding on the brain. The effects of stroke can be permanent although people have been known to make good recoveries in the past, depending on the level of the stroke, and the treatment after the stroke has occurred. Care and treatment is often needed in the case of any level of stroke, and in serious cases, hospitalisation is required. In some, strokes can cause death.
What causes a Stroke?
There are two main types of stroke: ischaemic strokes and haemorrhagic strokes.
Ischaemic strokes are the most common type of stroke. They occur when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain. These blood clots typically form in areas where the arteries are narrowed or have been blocked over time by fatty deposits. As you get older, the arteries can naturally narrow, but certain things can accelerate the process, such as:
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- excessive alcohol intake
Another possible cause of this type of stroke is a type of irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation. This can cause blood clots in the heart that break up, escape from the heart, and become lodged in the blood vessels supplying the brain.
Remember: Ischaemic strokes are caused by blood clots blocking the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain.
Haemorrhagic strokes, on the other hand, are less common than ischaemic strokes. They occur when a blood vessel within the skull bursts and bleeds into and around the brain. The main cause of a haemorrhagic stroke is high blood pressure, which can weaken the arteries in the brain; making them prone to being split or rupturing.
Common things that increase the risk of high blood pressure are:
- drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
- lack of exercise
Note that stress can cause temporary rises in blood pressure, you would have to be severely stressed, on a level that you would notice other health issues, for it to be the only cause of a haemorrhagic stroke.
Less commonly, haemorrhagic strokes can also occur as the result a brain aneurysm or abnormally formed blood vessels in the brain.
Remember: Haemorrhagic strokes are commonly caused by dangerously high blood pressure.
How can you recognise a Stroke?
You may recognise the acronym F.A.S.T., which has been around for years now, helping the public understand how to recognise that someone is having a stroke, or helping the individual themselves realise that they’re having a stroke. Often, you’ll see the same kind of text written beside the acronym, because it’s proven useful to have shorter pieces of information that can be acted upon quickly, rather than a paragraph:
FACE – Is their face drooping on one side? Can they smile?
ARM – Is one arm weak? Can they raise both arms?
SPEECH – Is their speech jumbled or slurred? Can they speak at all?
TIME – Time is critical. Call 999.
If you can remember what the acronym stands for, you can get the sufferer help much faster.
What do you do in the event of someone having a Stroke?
In the event that someone you know or someone around you is suffering a stroke, follow the F.A.S.T. acronym, and get the individual help as soon as possible. You should also use the following advice:
- Give the 999 operator as much information as possible
- Do not offer the individual any food, drink, or medicine
- Time the stroke
- Take notes on the stroke while it’s happening, these can help the paramedics treat the sufferer
- Be prepared to receive the paramedics
- Stay with the sufferer
- Perform CPR if the sufferer stops breathing
- Do not let the sufferer go to sleep
- Do not drive the sufferer to the ER
- Above all, stay calm
By following these few dos and don’ts, you can keep yourself and the stroke victim safe while you’re waiting for the paramedics to arrive on the scene.
Those more at risk of a Stroke
It’s not completely possible to reduce or stop strokes. They are the result of medical issues that build up over time – clots and high blood pressure, you’ll recall from earlier in this guide.
You’re more likely to have a stroke if you’re over 65, although about 25% of strokes happen in younger people. Your risk is also higher if a close family member has suffered a stroke in the past, this is because you will be subject to the same environments and family health history. High blood pressure and history of blood clots can run in families. Your risk of having a stroke is also higher if you’ve had one in the past.
In addition, if you’re South Asian, African or Caribbean, your risk of stroke is higher, partly because rates of diabetes and high blood pressure are higher in these ethnicities.
If you believe that you have an irregular heartbeat, or you’re experiencing symptoms you may believe are linked to high blood pressure or possible blood clots, seek assistance from your GP.
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