May is recognised globally as Stroke Awareness Month, a time dedicated to raising public awareness and understanding of this life-altering medical condition.
Throughout this month, healthcare professionals, organisations, and advocates join forces to educate communities on the risk factors, signs, and symptoms of strokes and the importance of timely medical intervention and rehabilitation.
During Stroke Awareness Month, various events and campaigns are organised to emphasize the critical nature of early detection and prevention. Workshops, webinars, and community gatherings are held to provide valuable information on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, managing chronic conditions, and making simple yet effective changes to reduce the risk of strokes.
One of the primary goals of Stroke Awareness Month is to teach the public how to recognize the warning signs of a stroke using the acronym “FAST”. Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulty, and Time to call emergency services.
By remembering and acting upon these simple steps, countless lives can be saved, and the long-term effects of strokes can be mitigated.
What causes a stroke?
A stroke occurs due to the blood supply being disrupted to a part of the brain, either due to a blockage or a rupture of a blood vessel.
In the case of an ischemic stroke, which accounts for approximately 87% of all strokes, a blood clot or fatty deposit obstructs nutrient-rich blood and the flow of oxygen to the brain. This deprivation of essential resources leads to the rapid death of brain cells and subsequent neurological impairment.
On the other hand, a hemorrhagic stroke results from the rupture of a weakened blood vessel, causing blood to leak into the surrounding brain tissue. This accumulation of blood places pressure on the brain, leading to swelling and damage to nearby cells.
In both types of strokes, the interruption of blood flow and subsequent brain damage can lead to a range of symptoms, including sudden weakness, paralysis, speech difficulties, and vision problems, depending on the affected area of the brain.
Prompt medical intervention is crucial in minimizing the severity of these outcomes and maximizing the chances of recovery.
Who is likely to suffer a stroke?
Individuals at a higher risk of suffering a stroke exhibit certain predisposing factors or characteristics. Age plays a significant role, with the likelihood of experiencing a stroke doubling for each decade after the age of 55. However, strokes can still occur at any age, including in younger adults and children.
Genetics and family history also contribute to stroke risk, as those with relatives who have experienced a stroke are more prone to having one themselves. Additionally, certain ethnic groups, particularly African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans face a higher risk due to genetic predisposition and a higher prevalence of related health conditions, such as hypertension and diabetes.
Other factors that increase the likelihood of a stroke include pre-existing medical conditions, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes, as well as lifestyle choices like smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, and obesity. While some of these factors cannot be altered, many can be modified through lifestyle changes, proactive management of existing health conditions, and regular check-ups with healthcare professionals, thereby reducing the risk of a stroke.
What are the symptoms of a stroke?
The symptoms of a stroke often appear suddenly and can vary depending on the affected area of the brain. It is crucial to recognize these signs promptly, as timely medical intervention can significantly improve the chances of recovery and minimize long-term disability.
The acronym “FAST” is a useful tool for remembering the key stroke symptoms:
- Face drooping: One side of the face may appear to droop or feel numb. An uneven smile or facial asymmetry can indicate face drooping.
- Arm weakness: Weakness or numbness in one arm can be a sign of a stroke. An individual may have difficulty lifting or holding up one or both arms.
- Speech difficulty: Slurred, garbled, or incoherent speech can signal a stroke. The person might have trouble understanding speech or struggle to form words.
- Time to call emergency services: If any of these symptoms are present, it is crucial to call emergency services immediately, even if the symptoms seem to disappear. Early intervention can greatly impact the outcome of a stroke.
Are there early warning signs of a stroke?
Early signs of a stroke can be subtle, making it crucial to remain vigilant and act quickly if any unusual symptoms arise. These early warning signs may precede the more obvious stroke symptoms and should be taken seriously, as they can indicate a transient ischemic attack (TIA), often referred to as a “mini-stroke.” TIAs typically resolve within minutes to hours, but they should not be ignored, as they can serve as a precursor to a more severe, full-blown stroke. Some early signs of a stroke include:
- Sudden, unexplained fatigue or weakness: This may involve one side of the body or be generalised and could indicate an impending stroke.
- Difficulty speaking or understanding speech: Experiencing sudden trouble with speaking, slurring words, or struggling to understand what others are saying can be an early warning sign.
- Sudden dizziness or loss of balance: A stroke may cause an abrupt feeling of dizziness, vertigo, or difficulty with balance and coordination.
- Transient vision disturbances: This may involve sudden blurring, dimming, or loss of vision in one or both eyes, which could indicate a stroke.
- Unilateral numbness or tingling: A sudden onset of numbness, tingling, or weakness in the face, leg or arm, particularly on one side of the body, could be an early sign of a stroke.
- Unexplained headaches: A sudden, severe headache with no apparent cause might signal an impending stroke, especially if accompanied by other symptoms.
If you or someone around you experiences any of the signs of a stroke, it is important to seek immediate medical attention by attending A&E.
Prompt intervention can help prevent a more severe stroke and reduce the risk of long-term complications and aid the rehabilitation process. Quick action is vital, as the sooner medical treatment is provided, the better the chances of minimizing brain damage and long-term complications.
As we observe Stroke Awareness Month, let us all commit to spreading the word, sharing resources, and joining the global effort to reduce the incidence and impact of strokes on individuals, families, and communities.
Together, we can make a difference in the lives of those affected by this condition and work towards a world where strokes are no longer a leading cause of death and disability.
If you or a family member has been affected by a stroke and you wish for support both within your home and within our medical practice, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our team.
We can do some simple screening tests to estimate cardiovascular risk and advise on preventative measures and give lifestyle advice to reduce your risk.