Everything you need to know about living well with stroke
You may be wondering, what is stroke? Healthcare Pro are here to help explain this, as well as explore stroke symptoms, treatments for stroke, what causes stroke, and potential types of stroke. We also provide advice about products that can help if you have had a stroke. We hope you find this guide useful.
If you are concerned that you or someone you know may have stroke symptoms, you should call 999 immediately for an ambulance.
A stroke is a very serious condition which requires urgent treatment. It occurs suddenly and often without warning, and happens when blood cannot get to the brain or certain parts of the brain. People do sometimes die as a result of having a stroke. For some people, stroke causes damage to the brain, which affects how their bodies work – this may be temporary and may improve with time and rehabilitation, or may be long-lasting. Some people are not as severely affected and live well after a stroke, with few lasting effects.
Strokes are really common, with over 100,000 people experiencing a stroke in the UK every year. Anybody, including children, can have a stroke, but strokes are more likely for people aged 55 and over. Men are more likely to have a stroke at a younger age compared to women, but women are more likely to die as a result of a stroke than men.
There are stroke treatments available to help stop a stroke whilst it is occurring and prevent long-term effects. Stroke treatments save people’s lives. It is possible to lower your risk of having a stroke by living a healthy lifestyle.
For stroke survivors, there are many sources of stroke support available and ways to live well after a stroke.
For a further, comprehensive stroke explanation, download the Stroke Association’s leaflet ‘State of the nation: stroke statistics’.
A stroke is like an attack within the brain, which causes brain cells to deteriorate or die. Our brains require oxygen to function correctly, and blood pumps through the brain carrying this oxygen as well as essential nutrients. If this crucial blood supply is cut off or blocked, for example by a blood clot, a stroke can occur. Similarly, if the arteries in the brain are damaged and rupture, a bleed on the brain can cause pressure that compresses and damages brain tissue.
Whilst it is not possible to prevent strokes, there are ways to reduce your risk of one occurring. Narrowed or blocked arteries are often what causes stroke to happen, and this narrowing may occur due to smoking, hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, and alcohol abuse. A healthy lifestyle and management of other healthcare conditions may help reduce your risk of having a stroke. If you are concerned you may be at risk of stroke, visit your GP to discuss further.
To find out more about what causes stroke, visit the NHS website.
If your doctors suspect you are having or have had a stroke, they will urgently be looking for signs and evidence of what type of stroke you have experienced. There are three main stroke types which have different causes, and require different treatments. It is rare for more than one type of stroke to happen at the same time, but some people who experience multiple strokes may have different types each time. Finding the root cause of a stroke is essential for doctors to treat it successfully, and this needs to be done as quickly as possible to help prevent extensive or long-term damage. Find out more about diagnosis of stroke later on in this guide.
Ischaemic strokes are the most common and are caused by a blood clot that stops the blood flowing to the brain carrying essential oxygen. Blood clots usually form in arteries, in a process called atherosclerosis. This process is also what causes heart attacks to happen and heart conditions such as angina to develop. The British Heart Foundation provides a helpful video explaining the process of atherosclerosis in the brain.
Haemorrhagic strokes are less common but may be more life threatening and cause bleeding within the brain (intracerebral haemorrhage) or on the surface of the brain (subarachnoid haemorrhage).
Bleeding within the brain usually occurs due to a burst blood vessel which causes swelling and the potential for brain cells to die. Bleeding on the surface of the brain often happens as a result of a burst aneurysm which leads to blood leaking into the subarachnoid space. For further information on this type of stroke, download the ‘Bleeding in the brain’ fact sheet from Stroke Association.
Transient ischaemic attack (TIA) is known as a ‘mini-stroke’ and is usually a warning sign that a stroke may occur soon. The symptoms of a TIA are often the same as an ischaemic or haemorrhagic stroke, except they may last for just moments or a few hours. If you think you may be having a TIA, you should call 999 immediately. The Stroke Association provides two videos that explain TIAs.
For more information on types of stroke, download this fact sheet for patients and carers from the Brain and Spine Foundation.
It is important for everybody to make themselves aware of, and remember the symptoms of stroke, so that they can help a person or themselves to get help quickly in the event of a stroke occurring. This is because the faster that medical help is received, the quicker a stroke diagnosis can be made, and the sooner a person will be able to receive the right stroke treatment to stop widespread damage occurring in the brain. You may have seen the Public Health England ACT F.A.S.T campaign that aims to raise awareness of stroke, and most organisations now use this to help people recognise stroke symptoms. We cover that here in detail.
The main symptoms of stroke can be remembered with the acronym F.A.S.T.
• Face – sometimes in stroke, the person’s face may look odd. It may droop on one side, or they may be unable to make a facial expression such as a smile
• Arms – a stroke may make the person have weak or numb arms and be unable to lift both their arms and keep them up
• Speech – a stroke may make a person unable to speak, or their speech may be affected e.g. it may be slurred or not make sense
• Time – it is essential to act quickly if a person experiences any or all of these symptoms. Remember to dial 999 for an ambulance and tell the operator the person is experiencing a suspected stroke
Not everybody who has a stroke will experience these symptoms. Some people may also experience the following symptoms of stroke:
• Paralysis (often affects just one side of the body)
• Vision loss
• Blurred vision
• Feeling dizzy
• Feeling or acting confused
• Being unable to understand what other people are saying
• Balance or coordination problems
• Being unable to swallow
• An extremely painful headache that comes on suddenly
Symptoms may come on suddenly but then disappear, but it is important to go straight to hospital as you may be experiencing a transient ischaemic attack (TIA) or ‘mini stroke’, which could be a warning that further strokes are to follow.
After a stroke or multiple strokes, a person may be left with a number of symptoms which are temporary or long-term. The symptoms that remain will depend upon how severe the stroke was and what part of the brain was damaged. Some people report the following health problems after a stroke:
• Mobility problems e.g. finding it difficult to stand, move around, walk, etc.
• Extreme fatigue
• Cognitive difficulties such as poor memory, inability to concentrate, lack of spacial awareness
• Communication problems e.g. inability to speak, slurred speech
• Erectile dysfunction (in men)
• Depression and anxiety
Having a stroke can therefore have a long-term impact on a person’s life, but there are lots of help and support services available to you, and ways to help overcome these difficulties and rehabilitate well.
It is essential that a stroke is diagnosed quickly, so urgent medical attention should be sought if any stroke symptoms are present. If you arrive at hospital with a suspected stroke, you are likely to have a range of tests conducted including scans of the brain. These tests may include: CT scan, MRI scan, carotid ultrasound scan and echocardiogram.
For more information on stroke diagnosis, visit the NHS website.
Upon diagnosis of stroke, you are likely to receive medication and possibly surgery, depending on the type of stroke you have experienced.
If you have experienced an ischaemic stroke caused by a blood clot, you are likely to be given antiplatelet medication such as aspirin, which helps reduce the formation of blood clots. You may be given a procedure called thrombolysis to try to reduce the clot, which supplies medication called alteplase into the body. Thrombolysis is only effective if given within a few hours of the beginning of stroke symptoms. Some people are alternatively given a thrombectomy. Some people are also prescribed anticoagulant medication, if they are prone to blood clots.
If you have experienced a haemorrhagic stroke, which causes bleeding in or on the brain, you may require surgery. This may be required to remove blood and clots from the brain, fix blood vessels, reduce the chance of more bleeding and remove excess spinal fluid.
For more information on surgery, visit the BUPA website.
For more information on treatments for stroke, visit the NHS website.
Receiving a stroke diagnosis can feel daunting and worrying to the person who has experienced it, and their family. Stroke is a very serious condition and recovery can take some time. Other people bounce back very quickly after a stroke. Some people need rehabilitation whilst others never recover completely and may experience some permanent disability. Sometimes, stroke does cause death. However, most people do live, and if they are diagnosed and treated quickly, the chances of them living well after a stroke are very good.
Read on to find out more about living with stroke, including stroke recovery, stroke exercises and stroke diet, stroke aids that can help make life easier, opportunities for working after stroke and support for stroke survivors.
Stroke will definitely affect your life and may affect your day to day activities in lots of different ways. Most people who survive stroke are able to enjoy life and feel a sense of wellbeing. Some people find their recovery hard, long and difficult. Some people report that it has made them more health conscious and that they take care of themselves more. Some people may need ongoing support and care from family members or professional carers. Everybody experiences stroke differently. There are lots of stroke support services available to you, and you are not alone in your experiences. Read about the experiences of a stroke survivor on the Headway charity website.
Some people experience stroke at a young age, and this can bring about different challenges. The charity Different Strokes supports younger stroke survivors on their journey to recovery. Visit their site if you or someone you know has experienced stroke at a young age, and read some survivor stories.
If you are caring for someone who has experienced stroke, this is likely to affect your daily life too. There is lots of carer support available to you; you may wish to find information from the Stroke4Carers website, which covers lots of topics such as money, benefits, legal issues, carers rights, and practical advice and tips.
If you are finding daily activities difficult due to stroke, such as getting dressed, leaving the house, undertaking chores, using the bathroom, you may need to have an Occupational Therapy (OT) assessment. This can usually be arranged through your local council’s social services department. An OT will carry out an assessment of your skills and difficulties, and may be able to recommend different ways of doing things and ways to adapt your environment to make these tasks easier. Sometimes, they are able to recommend daily living aids that can help.
Stroke can sometimes leave you with physical or cognitive post-stroke symptoms that make some daily activities challenging. There is equipment available that can help with daily tasks, called daily living aids. At Healthcare Pro, we are experts in daily living aids. We have a team of Occupational Therapists (OTs) who are able to advise you how to use stroke products in the home to make certain tasks easier.
Here is a list of tasks that some people find difficult because of the symptoms of stroke, and examples of stroke products that are available to help.
PLEASE NOTE: our Expert Advice Service can only give advice about equipment and products which may help you to live more independently. They cannot give any advice on medications or treatments for symptoms of this condition.
Everyone recovers differently from stroke. Some people recover more easily and quickly than others. It depends what type of stroke you have had, what part of your brain was affected, and what damage was caused there.
There is a lot of support for stroke available, and you are likely to have a team of healthcare professionals to help you recover. For example, if you are left with difficulties walking or moving, balance or coordination problems, you may benefit from seeing a physiotherapist. For more information, read the Stroke Association leaflet Physiotherapy after stroke.
If you are experiencing mental health issues, such as anxiety or depression, your GP may be able to refer you to a counselling service. If you have difficulty communicating or swallowing, a speech and language therapist will be able to support you.
Stroke Association provides a wealth of information about the after effects of stroke and the treatments that may help.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help reduce the risk of developing high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which consequently reduces the risk of stroke. For a person who has experienced stroke, following a healthy stroke diet is important to reduce the risk of this happening again.
A healthy diet for stroke survivors should aim to reduce fat, sugar, salt and cholesterol, and increase the amount of vitamin rich fruit and vegetables, proteins and fibre. Consuming high levels of trans fats and saturated fats increases a person’s risk of developing atherosclerosis, which can lead to stroke or heart conditions such as angina. Eating too much salt can lead to high blood pressure, which increases your risk of damage to the blood vessels, which may increase your risk of stroke in the long term.
For more stroke diet advice, download the Stroke Association Healthy Eating and Stroke leaflet.
The NHS website provides lots of healthy eating information, recipes and weight loss advice you may find helpful.
Some people choose to take vitamin and mineral supplements for stroke recovery or because they believe these may reduce the risk of developing stroke. Popular supplements for stroke risk reduction include vitamin D, folic acid and NAC (N-acetyl cysteine). However, there is little scientific evidence that stroke supplements do reduce the risk of stroke, and some may even have the opposite effect, or may affect other healthcare conditions. Therefore, always speak to your GP before taking supplements of any sort.
Regular, moderate intensity exercise is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of stroke, because it helps reduce blood pressure, cholesterol levels and helps you maintain a healthy weight. The recommended amount is only around half an hour of aerobic exercise per day, which includes anything that gets your heart pumping, such as swimming, fast walking or running.
For stroke survivors, it is important to try to establish some level of exercise where possible, to reduce the risk of stroke happening again, and to help with recovery. Exercise for stroke survivors may be limited by the physical after-effects of their stroke, but there are many ways to get active again, including gentle walks and chair based exercises. Your physiotherapist or GP will be able to advise.
Some people who have limited mobility after stroke will be given exercises for stroke rehabilitation by their physiotherapists. This may include a range of very low intensity exercises, and practicing skills that you are finding difficult. For example, if you are experiencing weakness in the arms after stroke, you may be given some exercises that help you start to use your arm, and rebuild strength, muscle and coordination. For more information on this, download the Stroke Association’s Physiotherapy after stroke leaflet.
Quitting smoking is one of the best ways to reduce your risk of having a stroke. Smoking makes your blood more likely to clot because it is thicker, reduces the amount of oxygen carried by your blood, and makes your arteries narrower, which significantly increases your risk of having a stroke. Smokers are more likely to experience stroke, and more likely to die if they do have a stroke, compared to non-smokers. For more information on stroke risk and smoking, read the Stroke Association’s leaflet on Smoking and the risk of stroke. Visit the NHS website for advice on how to stop smoking.
Many people who have experienced stroke are able to work. Some may choose to change jobs or work part time, whereas others go back to their same employment. Your employer has to treat you equally and fairly if you do return to work, and has to make reasonable adjustments to ensure you are able to do your job, despite any disabilities you may have.
If you are unable to work for a short or long term period, you may wish to explore disability benefits that you are entitled to receive – for more information, visit the Money Advice Service.
For more information on returning to work after stroke, visit the Stroke Association website.
We hope this guide to stroke has helped you understand more about the condition, whether you have the condition yourself or know someone who has experienced it. Remember, if you think someone is having a stroke, it is important to act FAST and dial 999. Stroke is a common condition but it can have serious consequences and outcomes. There are many healthcare professionals that are able to provide help for stroke survivors and support you through recovery. There is a wealth of advice and information available online and through various charitable organisations and the NHS. You may find it useful to talk to other people affected by stroke, to share your experiences, learn from others, get tips and advice about diet and exercise, and discuss treatment options and successes. Here, we point you to stroke support groups and other online resources that offer further information and advice.
Stroke Association’s My Stroke Guide – a self-management tool to support all people affected by stroke, which includes a social forum to share experiences and local support group information
Positive Thinking Stroke Survivors Facebook Group – a group of stroke survivors from across the world, united on Facebook to share positive attitudes, experiences and advice
Different Strokes Facebook Group – a group for young stroke survivors and their families.
ACT F.A.S.T campaign – Public Health England’s official campaign website, designed to educate the public about stroke symptoms
British Heart Foundation – the leading UK heart charity which provides lots of advice about healthy living to prevent heart disease and related health conditions such as stroke
Brain and Spine Foundation – a UK charity providing information and research for all neurological health conditions related to the brain and spine
Different Strokes – a charity for young survivors of stroke, providing practical information related to a young person’s experiences, survivor case studies and a helpline
Headway – the Brain Injury Association that aims to improve life after brain injury, through a helpline, informative website, local groups and branches, financial assistance and specialist nurses
NHS Choices – source of official medical advice and information in the UK, related to all aspects of stroke and other healthcare conditions, as well as lifestyle advice
Stroke Association – the leading UK charity that provides a wealth of information about all aspects of stroke, as well as an online self-management tool, social forum, helpline, local support services and grants for funding equipment for stroke survivors
Although we always try to explain things as simply and as clearly as possible, sometimes it’s necessary to use the correct medical terminology. Medical terms are often known for being tricky to pronounce and if you’re not an expert in the subject, they can also be a little difficult to understand. Below, we’ve put together a list of terms used on this page along with a brief explanation of what they mean to help make your understanding of stroke as straightforward as possible.
– a drug used to treat heart attacks and strokes by breaking up blood clots
– where the wall of an artery becomes weak and may become misshapen or rupture, which leads to internal bleeding
– drugs that help prevent blood from clotting, given to people at risk of stroke, heart attack etc
– build-up of fat inside the arteries which makes them narrower, making a person more susceptible to heart attack and stroke
– blood vessels which look like tubes in the body, and which circulate blood from the heart under high pressure
– tubes that carry blood around the body and which take the form of a vein, artery or capillary
– computerised tomography scan that uses x-rays to look inside the body to see organs, bones, blood vessels, etc
Carotid ultrasound scan
– tests for narrowed carotid arteries, which are the two main ones that carry blood to and from the head/neck
– heart and blood vessels scan, similar to an ultrasound
– a form of vitamin B9 which is important for brain function
– cholesterol is a substance made in the body, which is required to help build cells, however too much or high levels of cholesterol can be dangerous and put people at higher risk of stroke and heart attack
– another term to describe high blood pressure, which can increase a person’s risk of developing serious health conditions such as stroke, and which is easy to test using a blood pressure monitor
– bleeding within the brain
– blood and oxygen supply to the tissues is restricted and, in the case of stroke, blood supply to the brain is reduced
– a magnetic resonance imaging scan that uses magnetic fields to look inside the body, to look at organs, breasts, brain, spine, blood vessels, etc
NAC (N-acetyl cysteine)
– a dietary supplement which is a form of an essential amino acid and antioxidant made in the body
– being overweight with a high level of body fat
– a surgical procedure to remove veins or arteries, used in stroke care or for other conditions such as deep vein thrombosis
– a procedure to dissolve blood clots by transferring medication into the body
– unsaturated fats in foods that raise cholesterol levels and cause clogged arteries
– found in foods, too much of these fats may increase cholesterol and risk of stroke or heart attack
– bleeding on the surface of the brain
– this is an area within the central nervous system that contains delicate tissue and spinal fluid. In some types of stroke, blood may leak into this area