This article was written by one of The Food Medic team; GP – Dr Nirja Joshi
What is a stroke?
A stroke, otherwise known as a cerebrovascular accident, or CVA, occurs when the blood supply to the brain is disrupted (1). There are two main causes of this, ischaemic (often caused by a clot and accounting for 85% of strokes) and haemorrhage (bleed). A stroke is a serious and life threatening condition. If you suspect someone of having a stroke, you must call 999 immediately and seek emergency medical attention.
There are 100,000 people in the UK who have a stroke each year and there are over 1.3 million stroke survivors living in the UK. This shows that strokes are extremely common, and thankfully, with increased awareness of stroke symptoms and health promotion, deaths from stroke are reducing each year (1).
What is FAST?
FAST stands for ‘face, arms, speech and time’ (2).
Face – Can the person smile or raise their eyebrows? Does it look the same on both sides?
Arms – Can the person lift both arms above their head? Is one arm numb?
Speech – Ask the person a question, is their speech slurred? Are they unable to respond?
Time – If any one of these tests is positive, you must call 999 and tell the operator that you are suspecting a stroke.
If you phone 999, they will ask you which service you require (ambulance) and then ask you what has happened. If you do not know the person, try to find out their name, their age and any medical conditions. This may be in their wallet, and some people wear medic alert bracelets which tell you about any serious medical conditions.
What is a mini stroke?
A Transient Ischaemic Attack or TIA, can sometimes be referred to as a ‘mini-stroke’ (3). What this means is that symptoms may appear, and then start to improve. A TIA will have all symptoms resolved within 24 hours.
It is vital that you seek medical help if you have had symptoms of a TIA. A TIA will occur when there is a temporary loss of oxygen to the brain from a clot, once the clot moves, the symptoms will recover. However, this means that the chances of having a full stroke are much higher. After having a TIA, doctors can look at why you might be producing clots and try and treat the conditions to prevent any further complications.
What are the risk factors for stroke?
Anyone can have a stroke at any time. A lot of people feel that stroke only impacts older adults, however, this is not true. Children and young people can also have strokes, which is why it is important to understand what risk factors are within your control and how to recognise it (4).
One in four strokes in the UK happen to someone of working age.
The main medical conditions which increase your risk of stroke are high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and atrial fibrillation (an irregular heart beat).
Please see our article on the NHS health check, which is a great way for adults over 40 to look at these risk factors.
There are of course other conditions which might impact on your risk, such as blood clotting disorders, sickle cell disease and family history of heart attacks or strokes.
Lifestyle factors such as being overweight, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol, smoking, diet and exercise can also contribute to your risk.
Women have specific risk factors for stroke for example, pregnancy. The risk increases towards the end of a pregnancy and just after delivery, a stroke is three times more likely in someone who is pregnant (30 out of 100,000 pregnant women) in comparison to someone who is not pregnant. The combined oral contraceptive pill can increase a woman’s risk of stroke, this will also depend on predisposing risk factors for stroke, but the statistics show that a risk of stroke for a woman on the combined oral contraceptive is 8.5 per 100,000 women, and would be 4.4 per 100,000 women not on the pill.
What type of things can you do to reduce your risk of stroke?
Everyone can reduce their risk of stroke through maintaining a healthy weight for your height, eating a balanced diet, stopping smoking and drinking alcohol within the recommended limits (14 units a week for both men and women).
Support for you or your relative if you have had a stroke
After a stroke, it is likely that you will be put on medications to help reduce your risk of further strokes. The treatment after a stroke will involve rehabilitation to improve your muscle strength, speech or swallowing depending on the effects of the stroke. There will also be options for adaptations for work and around the home if there has been a change in your mobility. There are several charities who can help if you or a family member have had a stroke. The Stroke Association (5) is a great source of support if you or a family member has suffered with a TIA or stroke. You can call their stroke helpline on 0303 3033 100.
If you suspect anyone of having a stroke, do not wait and dial 999.
If you would like to consider reducing your risk of stroke, speak to your doctor.
If you or a relative has had a stroke, you can contact a stroke charity to see what help they may be able to offer.
- NHS. Stroke [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2022 Apr 22]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stroke/
- Stroke Association. Symptoms of a stroke [Internet]. [cited 2022 Apr 22]. Available from: https://www.stroke.org.uk/what-is-stroke/what-are-the-symptoms-of-stroke
- Stroke Association. Are you at risk of a stroke [Internet]. [cited 2022 Apr 22]. Available from: https://www.stroke.org.uk/what-is-stroke/are-you-at-risk-of-stroke
- Stroke association. How we can help [Internet]. [cited 2022 Apr 22]. Available from: https://www.stroke.org.uk/finding-support/our-stroke-helpline/how-we-can-help
- Stroke Association. Transient Ischaemic Attack [Internet]. [cited 2022 Apr 22]. Available from: https://www.stroke.org.uk/what-is-stroke/types-of-stroke/transient-ischaemic-attack
Action on stroke was last modified: May 31st, 2022 by