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Frequently asked questions about stroke

Stroke is the third biggest cause of death in the UK after heart disease and cancer. Get answers to frequently asked questions about stroke.

What is stroke?

The two forms of stroke are ischaemic - which is the blockage of a blood vessel supplying the brain - and haemorrhagic - bleeding into or around the brain. In an ischaemic stroke, a blood clot blocks or plugs a blood vessel (artery) in the brain. About 80% of all strokes are ischaemic. In a haemorrhagic stroke, a blood vessel in the brain breaks and bleeds into the brain; about 20% of strokes are haemorrhagic.

What happens during a stroke?

When a stroke occurs the blood supply to part of the brain is suddenly interrupted. Brain cells die when they no longer receive oxygen and nutrients from the blood or if there is sudden bleeding into or around the brain.

What are the symptoms of a stroke?

The symptoms of a stroke include sudden numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding speech; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden trouble with walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination; or a sudden severe headache with no known cause.

Why can't some people identify stroke symptoms?

Because stroke injures the brain, a person may not be able to perceive their own problems correctly. To a bystander, the stroke patient may seem unaware or confused. A stroke victim’s best chance is if someone around them recognises the stroke and acts quickly.

What should a bystander do during a stroke?

During a stroke, bystanders should know the signs and act quickly. If you believe someone is having a stroke, and they are showing symptoms like losing the ability to speak, inability to move an arm or leg on one side, or experience facial paralysis on one side - call 999 immediately. Stroke is a medical emergency. Immediate stroke treatment could save someone's life and gives them a greater chance of successful rehabilitation and recovery.

Why is there a need to act quickly during a stroke?

Ischaemic strokes, the most common strokes, can be treated with a drug called alteplase, which dissolves artery-obstructing clots. The window of opportunity to use this drug to treat stroke patients is four and a half hours, but to be evaluated and receive treatment, patients need to get to the hospital as quickly as possible, as the sooner this treatment is given the better. Stroke patients who receive clot-busting treatment have a better chance of recovering from their stroke with little or no disability.

What are the risk factors for stroke?

Stroke risk increases as we get older but stroke does also affect younger people. According to the Stroke Association in the UK around one in three strokes occur in people under the age of 65, but older age is a risk factor that we cannot control. However, there are things you can do to lower your risk of stroke at any age. High blood pressure increases your risk of stroke four to six times. Heart disease, especially a condition known as atrial fibrillation or AF, can double your risk of stroke. Your risk also increases if you smoke, have diabetes, sickle cell disease, high cholesterol or a family history of stroke.

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