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Planning Retirement Online

All about strokes                                                        March 2009



emergencyA stroke is the third most common cause of death in Britain and is also the leading cause of severe disability. Over 111,000 people have a stoke every year. More than 250,000 people live with disabilities caused by stroke. People who are over 65 years of age are most at risk but they can affect people of any age. Afro-Caribbean groups have an increased risk of having a stroke.

The word doesn’t sound much, but stroke is very serious and refers to the brain being deprived of its blood supply, usually because of a blockage or a burst blood vessel.  The brain takes its oxygen supply from blood, if the blood flow is interrupted then brain cells lose their supply of oxygen and can be damaged or die very quickly. Once this has happened, the cells can’t be restored.

There are two main types of stroke, ischaemic and haemorrhagic.

Ischaemic strokes are the most common, accounting for over 70 per cent of all cases, and this is when the blood supply to the brain is blocked or reduced by a blood clot. The clot can form elsewhere in the body and then travel up into the arteries serving the brain.

A haemorrhagic stroke is caused from a weakened blood vessel. A weak area in the actual wall of the artery can eventually become so weak that it bursts.

There is a third type of stroke known as TIA or Transient Ischaemic Attack. This is often referred to as a mini-stroke because it is a short episode when some brain function is lost because of a short and temporary disruption of blood supply.

In TIA, symptoms usually last for just a few minutes before the blood supply returns and you feel normal again. Because of the shortness of the interruption, the brain cells don’t suffer permanent damage.

TIA can be an early warning and there is a 20 per cent greater risk of suffering a complete stroke in the month following a TIA.

Symptoms of a stroke vary considerably depending on which part of your brain is affected. There is a good term to remember called FAST which stands for face, arms, speech and time:


  • Face. The face can often be affected by a stroke with a limitation of face movement in some areas; the person may not be able to smile, or their mouth or eyes may droop.
  • Arms. Arm weakness is another key indication, especially if you can’t raise both arms and keep them up because of weakness or numbness..
  • Speech.  A slurring of speech is a good indication of stroke.
  • Time. Speed is the priority if you suspect you or someone else is having a stroke. Dial 999 immediately and get medical assistance as fast as you can. Speed is vital because a brain can lose 1.9 million cells every minute a stroke goes untreated.


Other indications of stroke include difficulty in talking and communicating; problems with balance and co-ordination, dizziness, numbness or weakness in on one side of the body and severe headaches.

There is a range of different treatment used now to treat strokes. There are “clot busting” medicines which dissolve blood clots and surgery can be undertaken to remove blood clots from brains.

Today there is also a range of medications that can be used for people at risk of stroke. Many older people today are advised to take a regular dose of aspirin. This makes the platelets in your blood less sticky which reduced the chances of blood clots occurring.

There are also anticoagulants such as heparin and warfarin which are used to help prevent clots from forming in the blood.

High blood pressure and high cholesterol levels can also increase the risk of stroke.

In Britain there is a Stroke Association that can offer a wealth of information and support.

Their webpage is Their Stroke Helpline is on 0845 3033 100 (calls charged at local rate) open Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm.
Or you can mail: or write to: Stroke Information Service, The Stroke Association, 240 City Road, London EC1V 2PR


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