Harlow Stroke Support Group

Charity Number 1099071

GPCA, Abercrombie Way, Harlow, Essex. CM18 6YJ.

Tel: 01279 308313

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What is a stroke?

For your brain to function, it needs a constant blood supply, which provides vital nutrients and oxygen to the brain cells.

A stroke happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off and brain cells are damaged or die.

Strokes are sudden and have an immediate effect.

Ischaemic strokes happen when something blocks an artery that carries blood to the brain.

There are several possible causes:

•A blood clot forms in a main artery to the brain 
•A blood clot, air bubble or fat globule forms in a blood vessel and is carried to the brain 
•There is a blockage in the tiny blood vessels deep inside the brain

Haemorrhagic strokes happen when a blood vessel bursts and bleeds into the brain (a haemorrhage).

The haemorrhage may be due to:

•A vessel bursting within the brain itself, or
•A blood vessel on the surface of the brain bleeding into the area between the brain and the skull.

Strokes affect people in different ways, depending on the part of the brain that is affected, how widespread the damage is and how healthy the person was before the stroke.

A stroke is always a medical emergency It is important to be able to recognise the symptoms of a stroke and to get help immediately.

Symptoms of a stroke?

You can recognise a stroke using the FAST test:


FACIAL weakness: Can the person smile? Has their mouth or eye drooped?

ARM weakness: Can the person raise both arms and keep them there?

SPEECH problems: Can the person speak clearly and understand what you say?

TIME to call 999.

If a person fails any one of these tests, get help immediately by dialling 999. Inform the 999 operator that you suspect somebody may have had a stroke. Tell them which elements of the FAST test could not be completed and if you know, when these symptoms began.

A speedy response can help reduce the damage to a person's brain and improve their chances of a full recovery.

A delay in getting help can result in long-term disabilities or even death.

Don't ignore temporary symptoms

If symptoms disappear within 24 hours, the person may have had a Transient ischaemic attack (TIA), which is sometimes called a mini-stroke.

A TIA is still a medical emergency, because it can lead to a major stroke.

Recovery and Rehabilitation

Many stroke survivors are likely to see a significant improvement of their symptoms during their stay in hospital. Some patients may be discharged from an acute hospital setting and transferred to a rehabilitation unit. This will enable them to receive intensive rehabilitation from a range of professionals including speech, physio and occupational therapy.

There is no set recovery/rehabilitation timescale following a stroke. Your long term rehabilitation will very much depend upon the type and severity of your stroke.

Common problems after stroke:

There are a range of longer-term problems that a stroke survivor may continue to face after they have left hospital. These include:

  • Physical pain
  • Weakness or paralysis, usually on one side of their body (hemiplegia)
  • Poor balance
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Tiredness or difficulty sleeping
  • Problems understanding other people or struggling to find words (aphasia)
  • Difficulty with speaking, reading or writing
  • Eyesight problems, which can cause clumsiness or seemingly odd behaviour
  • Difficulty with mental processes, including memory loss and an inability to concentrate or make decisions
  • Bladder and bowel problems
  • Emotional problems, such as depression, anger, anxiety, sadness and lack of confidence
  • Feeling too much or too little sensation (for example becoming sensitive to colour or light or not feeling pain from heat or sharp objects). 

Long Term Outlook

Stroke affects everybody differently, and it is impossible to say how much of a recovery will be made.

Some stroke survivors experience the most dramatic recovery during their stay in hospital. Others might continue to improve over a longer time, sometimes over a number of years.

Rehabilitation is about" regaining as much function as possible"and living as independently as possible"

Rehabilitation should not only be deemed as successful if a person has returned to their "pre- stroke" functionality. A successful rehabilitation, might enable a stroke survivor to walk using a stick as opposed to a walking frame or using a wheelchair.

Rehabilitation might also mean helping you to acquire new skills or relearn old ones as well as, helping you adapt to the limitations caused by your stroke. Alternatively, it might mean helping you find social, emotional and practical support

.Who is at risk?

Anyone can have a stroke

Every year, around 150,000 people in the UK have a stroke.

That's one person every five minutes! Stroke is the single biggest cause of serious disability and the third most common cause of death in the UK.

Although most people who have a stroke are over 65, around a quarter of strokes happen to people who are younger. It is estimated that over 20,000 people under 45 have a stroke every year.

Risk Factors for Stroke

There are a range of Risk Factors for Stroke, some risk can be reduced by lifestyle changes. However, there are others over which we have no control.

The information in this section applies whether you want to decrease your chances of having your first stroke or if you have already had a stroke or transient ischaemic attack (TIA) and want to reduce your chances of having another.

Risks factors you cannot control

Making changes to your lifestyle to make it healthier can reduce your risk of having a stroke. But there are some risk factors that you cannot change.


More men under 75 have strokes than women. But middle-aged women are more likely to have a stroke than men in the same age group.

Women are one and a half times more likely to die following a stroke.


Most people who have strokes are aged over 55, and the risk increases as you get older.

Ethnic Origin:

It is not yet understood why, people of South Asian, African or African-Caribbean origin are twice as likely to have a stroke than the rest of the population. They are also more likely to have their first stroke at a younger age.

None of these factors mean that you will necessarily have a stroke, but it is useful to be aware if you are at increased risk.

Risk Factors for Stroke that You can control


You are twice as likely to have a stroke if you smoke. Smoking causes your arteries to fur up and makes a blood clot more likely. Stopping smoking is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your risk of stroke.


  • Drinking too much alcohol can also increase your blood pressure. Binge drinking (more than six units of alcohol within six hours) can cause your blood pressure to increase rapidly which greatly increases the risk of a stroke. To keep any health risks at a low level, the Governments Chief Medical Officer recommends that you should not regularly consume more than 14 units of alcohol each week. A unit is not necesarily equivalent to one drink. For example, a pint of strong beer may be equivalent to 2 units. It is also recommended that that people have alcohol free days every week.
  • Obesity
  • Rates of obesity are rising in the UK. Diet and exercise are an important part of stroke prevention. Being overweight increases your risk of high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, all of which can increase the risk of a stroke. Regular physical activity can lower your blood pressure, helps to burn calories and fat and can improve your bodys' ability to produce insulin


Healthy eating helps keep your heart and bloodstream in good form.

Eating well and exercising also help you to lose weight

Tips for a healthy diet

  • Eat five portions of fruit and vegetables (of at least 80 grams) every day and avoid junk food.
  • Choose an alternative to red meat, which can contribute to the furring up of arteries.
  • Choose fish, poultry (with the skin removed), game or vegetables.
  • Reduce your salt intake, as it can increase blood pressure. Try to avoid processed foods, which contain high salt levels.
  • Eat more fibre, which controls fat levels in the blood. It is found in foods such as whole-grain cereals, porridge, brown rice, wholewheat bread and pasta, and grains such as couscous.
  • Reduce your fat intake. Fat can clog up your arteries, so try to avoid it or to find alternatives to fatty foods.

Tips for getting regular exercise:

  • Pick a form of exercise you enjoy and that you can build into your daily routine. It should make you feel warm and slightly out of breath.
  • Take it slowly at first. But aim to build up to at least 30 minutes five days a week.
  • Break up exercise into several sessions of 10, 15 or 20 minutes.
  • Warm up and cool down with several gentle stretching exercises, important for letting your heart rate return to normal after exercise.
  • Stop exercising and call your doctor if you feel dizzy, have pain in your chest or have difficulty breathing.
  • Get an exercise partner and change your routine occasionally to make exercise more interesting.
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Always check with your GP before taking up exercises.

Simple checks at your local GP practice can help reduce your risk of stroke.

Get your blood pressure checked regularly

High blood pressure can increase the risk of stroke.

People with high blood pressure may not have any symptoms, so it is important to check your blood pressure regularly.

Your doctor can prescribe medication to help with conditions that increase the risk of stroke, including high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol and irregular heartbeat.

Check to see if you have Atrial Fibrillation:

Atrial Fibrillation (AF) is a type of irregular heartbeat.

It affects around 750,000 people in the UK and means you could be more likely to suffer a stroke

The following could be a sign that you have AF:

  • Palpitations (being aware of your heart beating fast),
  • Breathlessness,
  • Chest pain,
  • Fatigue, or
  • You may have no symptoms but an irregular pulse over one minute.

A doctor or nurse will need to confirm a diagnosis of AF.