Discover what causes strokes and what you can do to reduce the risks of having a stroke, what to do if you suffer from either a mini-stroke or a full stroke, and where to get help and advice.
A stroke - what is it?
A stroke occurs when the blood flow to your brain is interrupted, causing brain cells to die through lack of oxygen.
The two main types are:
- ischaemic stroke - responsible for 80 per cent of strokes, this occurs when a blood vessel to the brain becomes blocked by a clot
- haemorrhagic stroke, a brain haemorrhage - more likely if you have high blood pressure, it is caused by a blood vessel bursting causing blood to leak into the brain
- Chest, Heart and Stroke - Northern Ireland
- Stroke - NHS Choices website
Discovering if you are at risk
You are at greater risk if you are:
- someone whose immediate family has had a stroke
- Asian, African or African-Caribbean
You are at risk if you suffer, or have suffered, from:
- high blood pressure
- heart disease - congenital, an enlarged heart or heart-valve disease
- an irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation)
- a blood disease
- sickle cell anaemia
- a mini-stroke
You may be at risk if you:
- drink excessive levels of alcohol
- eat a lot of saturated animal fats, like cream, cheese, puddings and rich sauces
- do less than 30 minutes of exercise five times a week
- take illegal drugs like cocaine or heroin - even if you took them years ago
It is less common for young people to have a stroke. However, if you have diabetes, are overweight, have high blood pressure and raised cholesterol combined you will be at acute risk of a stroke.
Helping prevent a stroke
You can lower your risk of having a stroke by:
- eating at least five varied portions of fruit and vegetables a day
- lowering your salt intake
- taking regular exercise
- not drinking more than the daily recommended amount of alcohol
- quitting smoking
- taking a daily aspirin if you have diabetes
- having your blood pressure checked regularly
It is important to check with your GP about any medication you may need.
For example, your GP may prescribe you:
- blood pressure-lowering medication
- anticoagulant (blood-thinning) treatment if you have atrial fibrillation
Checking out a mini-stroke
If you have a mini-stroke, or transient ischaemic attack (TIA), it is important to have it checked out.
Although they are temporary - sometimes lasting for just a few minutes with symptoms resolving within 24 hours - they are often a warning sign that you may experience a full-blown stroke.
However, there are treatments to prevent that happening.
See your GP as soon as possible and ask to be referred to a specialist stroke service - this should happen within seven days.
Symptoms of a stroke
The most common symptoms to look out for are blurred vision, slurred speech or muscle weakness when you otherwise felt well.
A full-blown stroke is always sudden and could include:
- numbness or weakness in your face, arm, hand or leg on just one side of your body
- confusion or difficulty speaking or understanding what someone is saying
- dimness, blurring or loss of vision in one or both eyes
- trouble walking and dizziness
- loss of balance or co-ordination
- severe headache, sudden vomiting or unconsciousness
The Stroke Association's Face-Arm-Speech Test (FAST) may be able to help you if you are unsure whether someone has had a stroke or not.
- Recognising a stroke with the FAST test - Stroke Association website
- Information on the Public Health Agency's Stroke campaign
If you or someone has a stroke
A stroke is a medical emergency and you should act immediately as early treatment is vital:
- dial 999
- go to a hospital casualty department
The effects of a stroke
A stroke can result in death or more often it can leave sufferers with a disability causing them difficulties in talking, walking and performing other basic tasks.
A quick response can enable treatments to be used that can reduce the effects of the stroke.
A computerised tomography (CT) scan should be carried out within 24 hours of admission to determine whether the stroke is ischaemic or haemorrhagic.
- ischaemic stroke - you may be given blood-thinning or clot-busting drugs and/or a carotid endarterectomy operation; in severe cases, you may have emergency surgery or medicines for brain swelling
- haemorrhagic stroke - there are fewer treatments but if it's associated with high blood pressure you will be given appropriate medicines for this