Strokes: what you need to know and what you may not expect

The NHS defines a stroke as “a serious life-threatening medical condition that happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off.” Strokes can impact speech, vision, your brain, and your ability to move. Those that have had one however, often define it as one of the worst things that could’ve happened to them.

The main ways you can identify the signs of someone taking a stroke include:

  • Their face has dropped to one side
  • They may be unable to move their arms or legs
  • Their speech has become slurred
  • They’re experiencing numbness down one side of the body

However, these aren’t the only signs. Intense headaches and a sudden unexplainable change to your vision can also be an often-overlooked symptom of a stroke.

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Strokes can be caused by an array of things. Such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, irregular heartbeats, diabetes, a blood clot that stops the body’s blood supply and when a weakened blood vessel supplying the brain bursts. It’s important to note that these aren’t the only causes of strokes and each case can be different. Public Health Scotland have found that the incidence rate for strokes were consistently 20% higher in males than females.

In Scotland 3,754 deaths were recorded of being linked to strokes and other similar conditions in 2019. In the last decade, the death rate for cerebrovascular disease (strokes, blood clots and aneurysms) decreased by 35%.

Whereas for the rest of the UK, in England figures from Public Health England showed that 38% of people suffering strokes are between 40-69 which has increased from 33% a decade ago. The average age for a woman developing a stroke has dropped from 75 to 73 and for men it has dropped from 71 to 68. In 2016, 57,000 people suffered a first-time stroke in England, and around 30,000 died from the condition, making it the third most common cause of premature death.

In Wales there are around 70,000 stroke survivors with an estimated 7,400 people having a stroke every year, according to Stroke.Org. They also estimate that the number of stroke survivors living in Wales will increase by 50% over the next 20 years.

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Strokes can be treatable and it’s vital a potential stroke patient receives a diagnosis quickly so treatment can begin. They can be treated through rehabilitation, tablets and through various monitoring depending on what part of the brain has been impacted.

Margo Allan, a 51-year-old suffered a stroke following her first Covid-19 AstraZeneca vaccine in April, Margo said: “It completely changed my life. I went from being independent to having to be cared for by others in ways I hadn’t experienced before.

“When I took my stroke, I never had the obvious tell-tale symptoms, so I didn’t know what was fully wrong with me at first. I thought I just had a bad migraine but when I started feeling some numbness and my vision changed the next day, I knew something was wrong.

“After being in and out of different hospitals for a week and doing different scans, I was finally diagnosed with a stroke, high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid issues and sight loss. I now must take several medications to manage my conditions.

“The high blood pressure, thyroid issues and diabetes can all be controlled but I will never know if my sight will return as that was the part of my brain that died when I took the clot.

“I can no longer drive, cook, go places as freely as I used to, it has impacted my business and my mental health to an extent. I’ve also been registered as legally partially sighted.

“People think with a stroke the recovery process includes taking some blood thinners and maybe doing some physiotherapy and you’ll recover, that isn’t always the case as I’ve had to learn the hard way. The medication I’m on gives me a 90% chance of not taking a stroke again but I still live-in fear that it’ll return and potentially do even more damage.”

The NHS recommends that the best ways to avoid a stroke is to not smoke, have a healthy diet, exercise regularly and stay within the recommended alcohol unit limits. Strokes can impact all aspects of your life, even in ways you may never imagine. If you believe you or someone else is having one call 111, an ambulance or if possible, take them to the nearest hospital yourself.

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