Different Strokes…. 

On Thursday 13th April, we played host to two remarkable guests.   

Both Anna and Mark were invited to come into our office and give our team including Care Givers, a talk on something we all hear about from time to time, the subject of the life changing event of suffering a stroke.  Although we may have a little understanding regarding what a stroke actually is, it was quite obvious from the start that none of us realised how common they are and age is no barrier. There is often no warning and can strike any one of us at any time.  

What was so inspirational is that they have both faced the challenges caused by a stroke and faced months of rehabilitation and recovery.  They now use their experience in order to raise awareness amongst as many people as they can reach.  

By educating people it gives them the tools they need to recognise symptoms and act quickly.  Time is of the essence and the first few hours are vital.  I will start with these two real life case studies with ladies first.  Thirteen years ago, Anna was a healthy 24-year-old with no previous history of high blood pressure or any medical ailment that could have been a pre-existing factor.  Anna had a one-month old baby boy and was just getting to grips with being a first time mum and revelling in those special early days.   

It was during the Christmas period when one evening, it was noticed by family members that Anna was slurring her speech. With an associated headache, she went to bed. It was assumed that because of a recent pregnancy and not being able to drink alcohol, that Anna was a tad tipsy!  It was not until the next morning when Anna failed to get up, the reality of her being desperately ill, meant an emergency admission to Hospital.   

A diagnosis of an Ischaemic stroke was made.  This meant she had the blood supply to part of her brain cut off. Blood carries essential nutrients and oxygen to the brain and without it our brain cells can be damaged or die completely.  Around 85% of strokes are caused by a blockage cutting off the blood supply to the brain. Anna’s blockage was caused by a blood clot forming in the artery leading to the brain or within one of the small vessels deep inside the brain.  

The terrible effects of this stroke left her with paralysis of the right side of her body, as it was the left side of her brain which suffered the trauma.    The symptoms that something was wrong came on suddenly but were largely ignored due to her own individual circumstances and this delay meant that more destruction took place, so consequently it was a very long road to recovery.  

The main symptoms of an Ischaemic stroke can include a sudden worsening headache, weakness, numbness, pins & needles on one side of the body, difficulty speaking or understanding. Visual disturbances, altered consciousness with or without vomiting and maybe a stiff neck.  It is important to understand that you can suffer from one symptom or a multitude. 

High blood pressure is a huge big risk factor, and being overweight, drinking alcohol in excess, smoking, lack of exercise. Stress, the contraceptive pill and hormone replacement therapy. Some people have a condition called Atherosclerosis, where fatty deposits build up inside the wall of the arteries. Also certain heart conditions can be a risk factor in developing blood clots, which are often referred to as embolisms.   

A vital warning that people should never ignore it if they suffer from a Transient ischaemic attack (TIA). This is sometimes known as a mini stroke as symptoms can be the same but last no longer than 24 hours. Having a TIA is a serious warning that you are at risk of having a full blown stroke so medical advice should be sought immediately. Although it’s never good to suffer a TIA at least it gives you a chance to prevent a more serious emergency occurring.  

Anna had no warning signs and the contraceptive pill was responsible developing a blood clot that travelled up to her brain and caused a blockage.  Anna spent five months in hospital being nursed back to health and receiving intense rehabilitation, in order to be able to go home and manage the everyday tasks that we all take for granted. How terrible that she was unable to enjoy the first year of her child’s life.  

Ironically some time later she was prescribed the mini pill which is a lower dose of hormones, having been assured she would be fine. As a result, she suffered a mini stroke.   This could have been avoided and it was fortunate the effects were not severe as they were before. Anna has never regained full use and feeling of one side of her body. She certainly makes the most of life and today Anna is making it her mission to raise awareness of strokes with another stroke survivor, called Mark.   

This gentleman also had no history that made him more vulnerable to having a stroke.  By his own admission he was carrying a couple of stone of excess weight but had no other health problems.  Marks first symptom occurred when he was shaving before going to work. He realised that he had impaired vision, with a blurring in one eye. He decided very wisely to work at home and it was just as well he did. From having blurred vision to going unconscious in a relatively short space of time was a massive shock for Marks wife.   

A hospital admission to Romford Old Church Hospital revealed there was a blood clot that has formed in the artery but it could of any other foreign material. Cerebral embolism is the medical term for a foreign body being responsible and a blood clot is known as a cerebral thrombosis.  The FAST test can help us recognise the symptoms of a stroke.  These symptoms come on suddenly.  F stands for Facial weakness. Can the person smile? Has their mouth or eye drooped?   A stands for arm weakness. Can the person raise both of their arms?  S stands for speech problems, can the person speak clearly and understand what you say?  T stands for time to call 999.  Suffering a stroke is something that we associate with happening to an older person and having rehabilitation to be able to pick up the threads of life again is unimaginable to most of us.  Mark has been left with a visual impairment but is using his experience to educate others along with Anna. The aim is to raise awareness amongst all age groups. One piece of advice that they gave which was invaluable was, if you think someone is suffering from a stroke, don’t hesitate to call for an ambulance, because if you suspect it then it probably is.   

On a personal note, I didn’t realise was how dangerous energy drinks are. Potential risks with energy drink consumption include Caffeine overdose, which can lead to a number of symptoms including palpitations, high blood pressure, nausea and vomiting and in some cases even death. If you’re already diabetic type 2, a high consumption of caffeine reduces insulin sensitivity. So there is a huge risk to health associated with buying these popular pick me up beverages.  

The NHS choices have issued a warning but unless you are alerted to the dangers you would have no idea about the risk you are taking. Young people make up a huge percentage of the market.  Anna and Mark are keen to educate as many school pupils as possible.   

There is no doubt that awareness is key and no knowledge is wasted. You never know when your skills will be needed and your advice could mean the difference between surviving with minimal disability or surviving but with catastrophic impairment or the worst case scenario is death.  

There is a lot we can do to prevent ourselves falling victim. By controlling our weight, eating healthily, not smoking, checking our blood pressure regularly, getting our cholesterol checked, not misusing substances and exercising regularly.  

This will all minimise our risks of suffering a stroke. Although most strokes are caused by a blockage, approximately 15% of strokes are due to bleeding in or around the brain. This type of brain injury is called a haemorrhagic stroke.  Blood from the heart is pumped around the brain through a network of blood vessels, called arteries. This blood contains vital oxygen and nutrients. If a blood vessel in or around the brain bursts it can cause bleeding. Often the only symptom is sudden severe headache, which will be the worst you have ever experienced. Other symptoms can include altered or loss of consciousness, seizures, nausea, vomiting, sensitivity to light and neck stiffness     

Lastly, we should not become complacent as Mark and Anna have proved, it can and does strike out of the blue and when you least expect it. 

If you have any questions or need advice from either Mark or Anna, let us know in the office and I will forward them your details. The stroke association Helpline can be contacted on 0303 3033 100 Website stroke.org.uk