A stroke can occur when a blood vessel in the brain becomes blocked or ruptures, causing parts of the brain to become starved of oxygen. If you suspect a stroke, you must call emergency medical services immediately and tell them what has happened and that you think this person has had a stroke. An estimated 150,000 people have a stroke in the UK each year, and over 10,000 of these people are under retirement age. Stroke has greater disability impact than any other chronic disease, and over 300,000 people are living with moderate to severe disabilities as a result of a stroke. Stroke can kill, and there are over 67,000 deaths due to stroke each year in the UK, and stroke is the third most common cause of death in England and Wales after heart disease and cancer.
Stroke accounts for 9% of all deaths in men and 13% of all deaths in women. There are two main types of stroke: Ischemic and haemorrhagic. The ischemic stroke happens when a clot blocks an artery that carries blood to the brain. It may be caused by a cerebral thrombosis, when a blood clot forms in the main artery to the brain; a cerebral embolism, when a blockage caused by a blood clot, air bubble, or fat globule forms in a blood vessel somewhere else in the body and is carried in the bloodstream to the brain; or a blockage in the tiny blood vessels deep within the brain.
The haemorrhagic stroke is a bleed when a blood vessel bursts causing bleeding or a haemorrhage in the brain. It may be caused when the blood vessel bursts within the brain or when the blood vessel on the surface of the brain bleeds into the area between the brain and the skull. Sometimes blockages in the blood supply to the brain is temporary, and a person will have symptoms of a stroke, but only for a short space in time. This is called a transient ischemic attack, or TIA, also known as a mini-stroke. Some people have just one TIA. Others have repeated TIAs over their life. A TIA is a sign that part of the brain is not getting enough blood and there is a risk of more serious strokes in future. As with major strokes, you must seek emergency medical treatment immediately. A stroke can happen with no obvious cause to people of any age, but there are factors known to increase the likelihood of it happening. Some of these factors are things that can’t be changed. Other risks may be reduced by lifestyle changes or medication.
Signs and symptoms include sudden headaches, confusion, numbness, paralysis down one side of the body, loss of bladder or bowel control, and not being able to coordinate the body. A good way of remembering this is the mnemonic FAST. F, face. Has their face fallen down on one side? Can they smile? A, arms. Can they raise both arms and keep them level? S, speech. Is their speech slurred, or having trouble speaking? T, time. You must call emergency services if you see any of these signs. The first signs that someone has had a stroke are very sudden. Symptoms can include, numbness, weakness or paralysis on one side of the body, which may show as a drooping arm, or leg, or a problem with the eyelids, or dribbling on the mouth, slurred speech, finding difficulty speaking words or understanding speech, sudden blurred vision or complete loss of sight, confusion, unsteadiness, or very severe headaches. The more quickly you identify that someone is having a stroke and the sooner they receive medical treatment, the more of the brain that can be saved, allowing the patient to have a much better chance of recovery.
The care you give the patient is to help them onto the floor and place them in a recovery position on their affected side. Cover them with a blanket. Calm them down. Try and keep people away. They’ll be confused, they’ll be scared, and so try and avoid having onlookers. Losing bladder or bowel control is common, to protect their dignity at all times. Dealing with someone who’s having a stroke can be very upsetting for the first-aider as well, so be aware of this and talk with a friend or medical professional if you need any help.