Signs and symptoms of stroke

People in the Black Country are being reminded of the signs and symptoms of a stroke and the importance of seeking urgent treatment.

A stroke is a serious, life-threatening condition which occurs when blood supply is cut off to part of your brain.
Like all organs, the brain needs the oxygen and nutrients provided by blood to function properly. If the supply of blood is restricted or stopped, brain cells begin to die. This can lead to brain injury, disability and possibly death.
It is a medical emergency and urgent treatment is essential. The sooner a person receives treatment for a stroke, the less damage is likely to happen.
The signs and symptoms of a stroke vary from person to person, but usually begin suddenly. The most common symptoms can be easily remembered with the word FAST:
  • Face – the face may have dropped on one side, the person may not be able to smile, or their mouth or eye may have dropped.
  • Arms – the person with suspected stroke may not be able to lift both arms and keep them there because of weakness or numbness in one arm.
  • Speech- their speech may be slurred or garbled, or the person may not be able to talk at all despite appearing to be awake. They may also have problems understanding what you’re saying to them.
  • Time – it’s time to dial 999 immediately if you see any of these signs or symptoms.
Other symptoms can include weakness in one side, including hands, legs and feet, blurred vision or loss of sight in one or both eyes, sudden memory loss or confusion, or a sudden, severe headache.
Almost 3,000 people in the Black Country experience a stroke every year.
Dr Salma Reehana, a local GP in the Black Country, said: “Stroke is a life-threatening condition where urgent medical attention is absolutely vital, and time is of the essence.
“Early treatment not only saves lives but results in a greater chance of a better recovery, as well as a likely reduction in permanent disability from stroke. That’s why it’s important that people familiarise themselves with the signs and symptoms of a stroke and call 999 immediately if they notice any of these.
“Even if the symptoms go away, you or the person having a stroke should still go to hospital for an urgent assessment.”
Stroke can strike at any time and happen to anyone. The best way to help reduce the risk of stroke is to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and avoid smoking and drinking too much alcohol.
Dr Reehana added: “The way we live can have a big impact on our risk of stroke. Knowing your blood pressure and living a healthy lifestyle, including regular physical activity and healthy eating, are some simple steps you can take to reduce your risk.
“Certain medical conditions, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, irregular heartbeat, and diabetes can also increase the chances of having a stroke. So, if you have been diagnosed with a condition known to increase your risk, ensuring it is well controlled, such as taking any prescribed medication, is really important to help prevent a stroke.”
For more information on strokes, visit the NHS website here.
Mark’s Story
In 2016, Mark Harding visited his GP for a health check-up and was diagnosed with high cholesterol. A year later he suffered a stroke and now the 56-year-old is raising awareness of the signs and symptoms of stroke to look out for.
Mark said: “A year before I had my stroke, I visited my GP for an annual health check and was advised that my cholesterol was too high. I was given a prescription for statins and advised to take one tablet a day to help lower my cholesterol. However, I made the decision not to get the prescription from the pharmacy and instead tried to manage it myself with my diet.
“The day before I was diagnosed with a stroke, I was at home on a Sunday and doing a bit of DIY. This involved crouching down and leaning into small spaces to access some pipes. It took longer than I thought and after I had finished, I stood up and felt an overwhelming feeling of nausea, severe dizziness and shooting pains down my right arm. I sat on the bed for a few minutes and the dizziness and nausea went, but my right arm felt numb and heavy. At the time I just thought I’d leant on it too long and thought that I had perhaps trapped a nerve from being positioned awkwardly for a long period of time.
“I remember going for a shower and I felt really funny. I couldn’t grab or hold the shampoo or shower gel bottles as I had a weakness in my arm and hand. It took me ages to get showered and dressed, but again I just put it down to being a bit stressed and tired from the DIY and went downstairs and had dinner. I had a banging headache and so took some paracetamol after I’d eaten and went to bed.
“When I woke up on the Monday morning, I still didn’t feel right. The pain and numbness in my arm was slightly worse and my headache was really bad too. Looking back, I knew something wasn’t right and I was really worried, but I still got myself ready and drove to work. I work in dispatch and have to sign for items to leave the warehouse, however that morning when I tried to write my name into a small signature box on a piece of paper, I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t hold my pen properly and I couldn’t position and co-ordinate my hand or arm either.
“I called my wife, and she said I should go to A&E as maybe I had a trapped a nerve. I went to Russell’s Hall Hospital, explained my symptoms and after being assessed for injury, a stroke assessment was carried out. I was quite quickly admitted to the stroke ward where I had numerous tests including blood tests, an ECG, and a CT scan. It was then confirmed that I’d had a stroke and a consultant came to see me to tell me that I had artery plaque build-up in my neck caused by cholesterol and would need surgery to remove it.
“The consultant advised that some of this plaque had detached and travelled in my bloodstream to my brain, causing the stroke. Surgery was scheduled for the following Monday, but due to the high risk of it happening again, I was in kept in hospital for a week under observation. I remained in hospital for two days following the surgery and was prescribed blood thinning medication and statins to take daily.
“It was a really worrying time, especially for my family and friends. I had four weeks off work and had to take it easy whilst I recovered. This meant I had to depend on others to help me with simple tasks like driving me around and carrying things for me, which wasn’t something I was comfortable with as I’m very independent. My children were also young at the time, and I wasn’t able to play with them or pick them up which was really difficult.
“Once I was home, I was asked to deliver my discharge information to my GP. At this appointment, my GP advised he had highlighted my high cholesterol the year before and prescribed medication to reduce it, however he could see that I had never picked up the prescription and taken the medication. He advised my stroke may not have occurred had I followed his advice. I also had to inform my siblings of my condition as it can be hereditary. Both my brother and sister saw their GP straight away and they were both diagnosed with the high cholesterol and given medication to manage it.
“I feel very lucky that my stroke was caught in time. Looking back, I knew some of the symptoms I was experiencing were a sign of a stroke, especially the numbness in the arm, but because I didn’t have all of them, I wasn’t 100 % sure. The only long-lasting effect of my stroke is my little finger on my right hand doesn’t function anymore and I have a four-inch scar on my neck, but I’m so grateful that I’m still here.
“I am fully recovered now and take my prescribed medication daily without fail. My advice to anyone who may be experiencing any stroke symptoms is to call 999 or go to the hospital straight away. Don’t ignore it, even if you don’t have all the symptoms, trust your gut instinct, and seek advice as soon as possible.
“And, if you have been diagnosed with high cholesterol, or any other condition that increases your risk of stroke, don’t ignore the advice of your GP. Had I followed my GPs advice in the first place, I may never have had a stroke and whilst I know I should never say never, by taking my medication as prescribed, I know I am now less at risk of another stroke in the future.”