Strokes can be life-threatening, and today they are unfortunately common (there are around 32,000 stroke related deaths in the UK every year). As such, it is important to understand what strokes are, and how to properly identify a stroke as they happen.
Identify a stroke – what is a stroke?
Strokes occur when blood supply to a part of the brain is temporarily cut off, in a similar way a heart attack occurs. This results in the brain being unable to get access to nutrients and oxygen that it needs, and so neurons in the brain start to rapidly die.
Whilst the effects are identical, there are two main causes of strokes. The most common, accounting for 85% of strokes, is called an ischaemic stroke. This occurs when a blood clot forms in an artery leading to the brain which has been narrowed in a process known as atherosclerosis, and thus blocks the supply of blood.
Arteries naturally narrow as you grow older, meaning the elderly can be at particular risk of strokes, but lifestyle choices and certain medical conditions also impact the risk of strokes. Smoking, obesity, and excessive alcohol consumption can damage arteries. Diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels have a similar effect.
The other type is called a haemorrhagic stroke, which happens when a blood vessel in the skull that has been weakened bursts entirely, making it impossible for blood to be carried through it to the brain.
The primary cause of haemorrhagic strokes is high blood pressure, which makes arteries weaker. Things that can make you at risk of having high blood pressure include: a lack of exercise; obesity; heavy drinking; smoking; and stress (as this induces temporarily higher blood pressure, so the more frequently you suffer from stress the more likely you are to suffer a stroke).
There is a third kind of stroke, known as a transient ischaemic attack. These are often called ‘mini stroke’, because they normally only last a few minutes and you have typically recovered within 24 hours. Ordinarily, TIAs tend to indicate an imminent risk of a full stroke, so should be treated just as seriously.
How to identify a Stroke
The signs and symptoms of a stroke do vary from person to person. However, there are three main symptoms, and an immediate method of response, that can be easily remembered using the FAST acronym:
- FACE– the eye or mouth may have drooped, or a whole side of the face may have drooped. The person might not be able to smile.
- ARMS– the person suffering a suspected stroke may not be able to lift and hold both arms up, because of numbness or particular weakness in one arm.
- SPEECH– the person may have garbled or slurred speech caused by weakness. Alternately, despite being fully awake and aware, they may not be able to speak at all.
- TIME– the most critical thing to do in an expected stroke, is to call for an ambulance as quickly as possible. If the person goes untreated and is suffering from a stroke, death is a strong possibility.
Although these make up the main and most recognisable symptoms of strokes, there are also other secondary symptoms that can be used to help make a diagnosis. A stroke can disrupt any part of the nervous system, and symptoms will typically come suddenly and on one side of the body. These possible symptoms include:
- Numbness in parts of the body
- Trouble walking/balancing
- Vision changes or blurring in one or both eyes
- Memory Loss
- Behaviour changes
- Involuntary eye movements
- Difficulty with swallowing
- Stiff muscles
- Intense headaches
- Inability to speak correctly or interpret speech
- Loss of all sensation in a part of the body
When it comes to the aforementioned mini-strokes, the symptoms are the same as full strokes, but the symptoms will typically disappear on their own shortly. This can lead to some people neglecting to act upon symptoms, and why it is important for people to get a proper diagnosis from their GPs when symptoms arise.
Tutorcare offer 2 courses regarding strokes. An online stroke awareness e-learning course, that helps candidates identify a stroke and offers guidance on treatment, and an in-house stroke awareness training programme that offers practical guidance. While the in-house training course is aimed at workplace health and safety, the e-learning course can be used by both employers and the general public as a starting point on how to identify a stroke.
Further reading on how to identify a stroke:
Stroke Association Uk – A charity dedicated to raising awareness of strokes and supporting stroke victims.