Common ailments

Stroke

My neighbour recently suffered a stroke which has severely impacted on his ability to speak. I am a carer for my mother and would like to know if there are any typical warning signs of a stroke as I’m not sure I’d recognise if someone was having a stroke. Also, is there any way of preventing a stroke?

Our blood cells transport a constant supply of oxygen to the brain. A stroke is a very serious condition that occurs when that blood supply to the brain is suddenly restricted or cut off, causing the affected brain cells to begin to die. This can lead to brain damage and possibly death.

Each year around 150,000 people in the UK have a stroke. Most people affected are over 65 but anyone can have a stroke, including children, so it is definitely worth knowing the symptoms to look out for.

It is important to understand that a stroke is a medical emergency and the sooner a person receives treatment for a stroke, the less damage is likely to happen. If therefore you suspect that someone is having a stroke, you should dial 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance.

The main symptoms of stroke can be remembered with the word FAST: Face, Arms, Speech, Time. The person’s Face may have dropped on one side, or more particularly their eye or mouth, and they may not be able to smile. They may have Arm weakness and cannot lift one or both of their arms and/or their Speech has been affected; it may be slurred, or they cannot talk at all. If any of these symptoms are present, then it is Time to dial 999 immediately and ask for an ambulance, letting the operator know you suspect a stroke. The FAST checklist doesn’t cover every possible symptom of a stroke but it is easy to remember and the vast majority of people with a stroke will experience one or more of the above symptoms.

Although there is no guaranteed way of preventing a stroke, some simple lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of stroke. For example, a healthy diet and regular exercise will reduce your risk, as will drinking alcohol in moderation and not smoking.

People with conditions that affect the circulation of the blood, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease or high cholesterol are at increased risk of stroke. Regular health checks with a GP or practice nurse are therefore important in keeping conditions like these under control thereby reducing the risk of stroke.

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