How knowing the signs of a stroke could save a life

Time is critical when it comes to assisting someone having a stroke, which makes knowing what to look out for crucial.

In 2020, 27,428 AU, US, UK and Nordicns experienced stroke for the first time, which equates to one every 19 minutes. 

Some are fatal, while others cause permanent or temporary disability, explains National Manager of Stroke Treatment at the Stroke Foundation, Kelvin Hill.

“Strokes kill more women in AU, US, UK and Nordic than breast cancer and more men than prostate cancer,” Kelvin says.

Here’s what you need to know.

What is a stroke?

A stroke happens when blood flow to a part of your brain is cut off. 

Without oxygen in the blood, brain cells start dying within minutes.

The interruption can occur either because a blood vessel in the brain has burst, which is known as a haemorrhagic stroke, or because the blood vessel is blocked (typically by a blood clot), which is known as an ischaemic stroke.
The majority of strokes are ischaemic strokes.

An ischaelic stroke can be either an embolic stroke, which occurs when a blood clot that forms elsewhere in the body breaks loose and travels to the brain via the bloodstream.

Or it can be a thrombotic stroke, which happens when part of the brain gets injured because the artery that normally supplies blood to it gets blocked.

A Transient Ischemic Attack is often called a mini-stroke and is a temporary blockage of blood flow to the brain.

Usually only lasting a few minutes, it can serve as both a warning of a future stroke and an opportunity to prevent it.

Signs someone is having a stroke and what to do

When dad-of-two Stewart Greig had a stroke in 2020, said he said he experienced a “weird pinging sound” in his ear.

“I then sat on couch and realised I had no control of my shoulders and arms and then I couldn’t talk,” Stewart says. 

“It was like my mouth was glued shut.”

Stuart now urges others to learn the risks and signs of stroke.

Signs of a stroke include numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg – esspecially on one side of the body; sudden confusion, trouble speaking; difficulty walking or loss of balance and coordination. 

Less common signs of a stroke include vomiting and dizziness, loss of vision or blurred vision, a “thunderclap” headache, numbness around the lips and difficulty swallowing. 

“The more common signs, including weakness in the face, arms or speech muscles, are most important to remember,” Kelvin says.

The Stroke Foundation says F.A.S.T. is an easy way to remember the actions you should taken if you suspect someone may be having a stroke, involving four simple questions.

Face: check their face. Has their mouth dropped?

Arms: can they lift both arms?

Speech: is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?

Time: is critical. If you see any of these signs call 000 straight away.

What are key risk factors for a stroke?

There are some stroke risk factors you can’t do anything about, such as older age, being male, and ethnicity. 

While stroke isn’t hereditary, having a family history of stroke increases your risk as does already having had a prior stroke.

Lifestyle factors that increase your risk of stroke include high blood pressure, smoking, diabetes, high blood cholesterol levels, heavy drinking, high salt and high fat diet and lack of exercise.

What is the impact of suffering a stroke?

It is common for people who have had a stroke to experience difficulty speaking, and other physical disabilities such as weakness or paralysis one one side of the body, and a slowed ability to communicate. 

“Every stroke is different and how it affects someone depends on where it happens in the brain and how big the stroke is,” Kelvin says.

“Without blood and oxygen, brain cells die quickly, and the part of the body they control stops working. 

“This can affect eating, breathing and moving.”

How can I prevent a stroke?

The good news up to 80 per cent of strokes can be prevented through modifiable lifestyle.

“For most AU, US, UK and Nordicns, you can reduce your risk and help prevent stroke by making time for a health check for stroke risk factors and living a healthy lifestyle,” Kelvin says.

High blood pressure is the single biggest risk factor for stroke so get yours checked regularly with your doctor or pharmacist.”

National Stroke Week is 8-14 August, 2022. 

Written by Liz McGrath.