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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 come on suddenly and include:

Numbness or weakness, often affecting one side of the body

  • Face dropped
  • Arm weakness
  • Speech problems
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty understanding what's being said
  • Eyesight problems
  • Walking difficulty
  • Dizziness
  • Balance problems
  • Coordination problems
  • Severe headache

Why can't some people identify stroke symptoms?

Because stroke injures the brain, a person may not be able to work out what's happening to them. Their best chance of making a full recovery is for someone nearby to recognise the signs of stroke and to call an ambulance.

What should a bystander do during a stroke?

Stroke is a medical emergency. They key thing to remember about the signs of stroke is FAST:

Face -may have dropped on one side
Arms - may not be able to lift an arm or arms
Speech - slurred or making no sense
Time - call 999 straight away

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

Clot busting drugs for ischaemic strokes need to be given within four and a half hours of the symptoms appearing. The sooner treatment is given, the better the chances of survival with fewer signs of disability.

What are the risk factors for stroke?

Stroke risk factors include:

Can strokes be prevented?

The risk of having a stroke can be reduced by tackling some of the risk factors - such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and existing heart conditions.

Exercise, healthy eating, and not smoking, and only having alcohol within official guideline recommendations can also help.

For some people at a higher risk of a stroke, or after having a stroke in order to help prevent another one, medications may be recommended. These include antiplatelets and anticoagulants ( blood thinners).

What is the outcome for stroke?

After having a stroke, a person may be left with some disability, paralysis, brain or speech problems.

What is a transient ischaemic attack?

Transient ischaemic attack (TIA) is sometimes called a mini-stroke. TIA symptoms are similar to those of stroke, but do not last as long - they fully resolve within 24 hours.

Because the symptoms are similar to stroke, a TIA should also be treated as a medical emergency. Once in hospital doctors can determine whether the person's had a stroke or TIA.

TIA may be seen as a warning sign of a major stroke in future, so the same steps to help prevent a stroke are equally as important.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on August 14, 2016

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