A stroke happens when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted. If your brain doesn't get enough blood to provide the oxygen and nutrients it needs, your brain cells will become damaged or die. It happens suddenly and can cause immediate loss of feeling and weakness, usually on one side of the body. A stroke can also affect speech, vision, memory and emotions.
A stroke is a medical emergency, so recognising the symptoms quickly and getting early treatment in hospital is important.
There are a number of different types of stroke:
The symptoms of a stroke come on suddenly and could be all or any of the following:
Depending on the size and location of the damage and the treatment available, the effects of a stroke can vary. The ability to move your arms, legs or face may be affected or you may be unable to speak or hear properly.
Because of the way the nervous system works, a stroke affecting the left side of the brain affects movement on the right side of the body and vice-versa. Symptoms usually come on suddenly, within seconds or minutes. Headaches that are a symptom of stroke are usually severe and come on suddenly or you'll notice a change in the pattern of your headaches.
As a stroke is a medical emergency, "000" (triple zero) should be called.
The acronym "FAST" is a good way to remember what to do if you think someone may be having a stroke:
F - face: Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A - arms: When raising both arms does one drift down or not move?
S - speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence. Are the words slurred or incorrect?
T- time: Act fast, ring 000 and rush to hospital.
If you suspect that someone is having a stroke, don't hesitate to act and seek help. Urgent treatment in hospital within three hours can help minimise the chance of permanent brain damage.
Some strokes may be quite mild and the effects only temporary, whereas others may be more severe and cause lasting damage. Long term effects of stroke include:
Problems such as anxiety, depression and seizures (fits) can often improve as you recover.
Long-term complications of stroke due to reduced ability to move may include:
Rehabilitation can help those affected by stroke to learn new ways of using and moving weak arms and legs. This can help reduce the risks of these complications.
As you get older, the risk of having a stroke increases.
Risk factors for stroke include:
You will have a number of tests in hospital to try and find out what type of stroke you had and which part of your brain is affected. This will allow your doctor to plan your treatment.
You will have your blood pressure measured and an electrocardiogram (ECG) to record the rhythm and electrical activity of your heart. You may then have blood tests to measure your cholesterol and blood sugar levels, and to check for clots. You will also have a brain scan such as a computed tomography (CT) scan or a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan as soon as possible. This will help to find out if your stroke happened because of a bleed or a blockage.
Later on, you may have some other tests on your heart and blood vessels to find out what caused your stroke.
When you go to hospital, you may be treated in a general ward or a specialist stroke unit.
If you're unable to swallow, you will be given fluid through a drip in your arm to stop you becoming dehydrated. You will have a tube in your nose to give you all the nutrients and medicines you need. You may also be given oxygen through a face mask, if you need it, to help you breathe.
You will be helped to sit up and move around as soon as you are able. If you're unable to move, you will be helped to regularly turn in your bed, to reduce your chance of getting bed sores and DVT.
The type of medicine you have will depend on the type of stroke you had. For example, if you had an ischaemic stroke or a TIA, you may have medicines to prevent further blood clots, such as aspirin or clopidogrel. Or, if you had a haemorrhagic stroke, you may have medicines to promote blood clotting and/or medicines to control your blood pressure. You may be given medicines to help prevent DVT, but this will depend on the cause of your stroke.
Your doctor may advise that you have surgery. This will depend on the type of stroke you have and isn't suitable for everyone. You may have:
After a stroke, you may need to relearn skills and abilities, which can help you adapt to any damage a stroke may have caused. This is known as stroke rehabilitation.
Generally, people will make most of their recovery in the early weeks and months following a stroke. However, recovery can continue after this time.
The stroke team at the hospital will work out a rehabilitation program for you that will be designed around your particular needs. This will continue after you leave the hospital. Your rehabilitation program may involve physiotherapists, speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, ophthalmologists and psychologists, as well as doctors and nurses.
You can take steps to lower your risk of stroke by making changes to your lifestyle. Some examples are listed below.
National Stroke Foundation of Australia
Signs of Stroke
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Last published: 30 July 2011
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