Health Matters

Hale and Hearty: Public Health Specialist for NHS Derbyshire County Julie Hirst.
Hale and Hearty: Public Health Specialist for NHS Derbyshire County Julie Hirst.

AS part of our ongoing series of health columns, Julie Hirst, public health specialist for NHS Derbyshire, including Buxton and the High Peak, talks about the warning signs for strokes.

Can you recognise the signs of stroke and know to dial 999 for an ambulance?

Every year 150,000 people in the UK have a stroke. Strokes mainly affect those aged over 65, although they can occur in younger people as well. Strokes are the third largest cause of death (after heart disease and cancers) and are the largest cause of adult disability in the UK.

The effects of a stroke can have a long term major impact on the person and their families, and many survivors are left with long-term problems. In the most severe cases strokes can be fatal or cause severe disability.

A stroke is a medical emergency. It occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off, and the cells affected are damaged or die.

There are two main causes of stroke – ischaemic (which accounts for 80 per cent of all cases) where the blood supply is stopped by a blood clot and haemorrhagic where a weakened blood vessel bursts and causes brain damage.

It is vitally important to recognise the signs of a stroke and call 999 straight away. By getting to the hospital quickly, a person having a stroke can get clot-busting drugs if they need them and specialist care. The sooner they get treatment the less damage is likely to happen.

Strokes are sudden and have an immediate effect. Recently the famous FAST adverts on the television have raised our awareness of the symptoms we need to look out for.

FACIAL weakness: Can the person smile? Has their mouth or eye drooped?

ARM weakness: Can the person raise both arms?

SPEECH problems: Can the person speak clearly and understand what you say?

TIME to call 999.

If a person fails any one of these tests, get help immediately by dialling 999

It is also important not to ignore temporary symptoms that may disappear after 24 hours. The person may have had something known as a Transient ischaemic attack (TIA) which is also sometimes called a mini-stroke. This is also an emergency as it can lead to a major stroke and the person needs to go to hospital immediately.

You can take action to reduce the risk of having a stroke by not smoking, keeping active, eating a healthy diet, drinking alcohol to sensible limits and controlling medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

For more information on stroke, FAST, treatment and prevention:

The Stroke Association www.stroke.org.uk

NHS Choices http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stroke/