Dr. Phelan By General Practitioner Published:

Did you know there are around 152,000 cases of stroke each year in the UK?

That’s one stroke every three minutes and 27 seconds.

Or that there are 1.2 million stroke ‘survivors’?

Stroke takes a life every 13 minutes in the UK. While age is an important risk factor (the risk approximately doubles every decade after the age of 55) the condition is by no means limited to older people.

Around 1 in every 150 cases of stroke occur in people under the age of 20. Around 200 babies suffer strokes in the UK alone. Tragically, up to 40% of children who have strokes will die.

Stroke awareness month

May is stroke awareness month and it’s a good time to find out how you and your family can avoid becoming stroke statistics.

Anyone can have a stroke, but there are some things that make you more at risk and it’s important to know what those risks are.

Strokes happen when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood to the brain. Clots are usually formed when arteries become narrowed or ‘furred-up’ by fatty deposits.

Age is one risk factor you can’t change. Others include ethnicity. If you’re South Asian, black African or black Caribbean, you’re at higher risk. Family history also plays a part. If a close relative has suffered a stroke, your risk is higher. Genetic conditions also increase your risk of stroke, including sickle cell disease.

While none of these factors mean that you will have a stroke, it’s important to reduce your risk by understanding the advice on avoiding stroke.

Advice on avoiding stroke

Smoking, drinking too much alcohol, being overweight and an unhealthy diet can all damage blood vessels and increase the risk of stroke, as can other medical problems such as high blood pressure and heart disease. The message is to eat healthily, achieve a healthy weight, exercise more, stop smoking and drink less.

Knowing the key signs of a stroke and being able to spot them can allow for rapid treatment. If caused by a blood clot, and diagnosed quickly, some patients may be able to have powerful clot busting drugs to restore blood flow to the brain.

A simple way to remember the main symptoms of stroke is to think “FAST”, which stands for Face, Arms, Speech and Time.

Patients with a stroke may develop a sudden asymmetry to their Face, such as a droopy mouth. Ask the patient to smile. Does it look equal on both sides? Arm weakness or numbness may develop. Ask the patient to lift both arms and see if they can lift them the same both sides. Speech changes are common in stroke, these often involve slurring of the words or difficulties expressing words.

If any of these symptoms are present, it is Time to call for medical help.