Harlow Stroke Support Group

Charity Number 1099071

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

Tel: 01279 308313

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Below you will find information on the following:

What is a stroke:

When a stroke strikes:

Getting better:

Stroke prevention:

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.

A person may become numb, weak or paralysed on one side of the body. They may slur their speech and find it difficult to find words or understand speech.

Some people lose their sight or have blurred vision, and others become confused or unsteady.

A stroke can damage mind and body.

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.

But strokes can damage:

  • bodily functions
  • our thought processes
  • our ability to learn, and
  • how we feel and communicate.

Recovering from a stroke takes time.

About a third of people who have a stroke make a significant recovery within a month.

But most stroke survivors will have long-term problems. It may take a year or longer for them to make the best possible recovery.

Sadly, in the most severe cases, strokes can be fatal or cause long-term disability.

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.

Recognise stroke symptoms FAST

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?

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.

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 death or long-term disabilities.

Don't ignore temporary symptoms

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

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

There are two different main types of stroke:

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 bloody 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.

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 third most common cause of death in the UK.

Strokes happen to younger people too

Although most people who have a stroke are over 65, around a quarter of strokes happen in people who are younger.

It is estimated that over 20,000 people under 45 have a stroke every year, and stroke also happens to children and babies.

Some parts of the population are at increased risk

Although men have a higher risk of stroke, women are one and a half times as likely to die from stroke as men.

Middle-aged women are also at an increased risk of having stroke than men within the same age group.

People of South Asian or African-Caribbean origin in the UK are at increased risk of stroke.

For example, people of African-Caribbean origin are twice as likely to have a stroke as people of European origin, and they also tend to have their first stroke at a younger age.

When A Stroke strikes:

When someone has a stroke, they will usually be taken to hospital as soon as possible so that medical staff can diagnose the stroke and limit the damage caused to the brain.

Leaving hospital:

Although many stroke survivors are likely to see a significant improvement of their symptoms during their stay in hospital, they will not be fully recovered when they leave hospital.

They are likely to need continued treatment and support at home or in residential care as they deal with longer-term problems.

This is where Harlow Stroke Support Group can help you.

Patients must be fit enough to leave hospital before they are discharged

The stroke care team will work with a social worker to assess a patient's progress in hospital.

The social worker is a link to sources of support in the community.

The stroke care team and a social worker will create a discharge plan.

The plan makes sure that a stroke survivor will get the help they need from health and social services.

This can include help with reducing the risk of further strokes.

Stroke survivors and their carers are entitled to a home assessment

If an assessment doesn't happen before a patient leaves hospital, they or their family can contact social services to ask for a home assessment.

It is important to get as much support as possible This applies to both stroke survivors and those caring for them.

As well as support from health and social services, it may be useful to contact other sources of advice and support in your community such as Harlow Stroke Support Group to ensure that the stroke survivor makes as full a recovery and rehabilitation as possible.

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, and
  • Feeling too much or too little sensation (for example becoming sensitive to colour or light or not feeling pain from heat or sharp objects).

A range of health professionals can help with these problems during the stroke survivor's rehabilitation. So can Harlow Stroke Support Group!


Getting better:

Stroke affects everybody differently, and it is difficult to say how much of a recovery is possible.

Many stroke survivors experience the most dramatic recovery during their stay in hospital in the weeks after their stroke.

But many stroke survivors continue to improve over a longer time, sometimes over a number of years.

Their recovery is in fact a long period of rehabilitation, as they learn to deal with the effects the stroke has had on them.

Rehabilitation is about getting back to normal life and living as independent a life as possible.

It involves taking an active approach to ensuring that life goes on for people who have had a stroke.

This can mean helping them to acquire new skills or relearn old ones.

It may involve helping them adapt to the limitations caused by stroke. Or it can mean helping them find social, emotional and practical support.

This section explains the wide range of activity that contributes to rehabilitation.

It sets out:

  • The importance of a positive attitude for stroke survivors,
  • How family and carers can help,
  • The role of different health professionals, and
  • Information about financial support. It also gives information about getting support in the wider community, including services offered by Harlow Stroke Support Group, and returning to normal day-to-day life.

Keeping a positive attitude

Negative emotions are normal and it is normal to feel angry, desperate, anxious or depressed after a stroke.

People can also feel worried about work, money and relationships, and the tiredness caused by stroke can make things worse.

A GP may refer a stroke survivor to a clinical psychologist or psychiatrist to help them understand and cope with psychological symptoms.

Staying positive can help rehabilitation because negative feelings can get in the way of progress, and it is important for stroke survivors to concentrate on what they want to achieve and to make the most of the support that is on offer.

Make the most of support in your community

Pay Harlow Stroke Support Group a visit. Your rehabilitation depends on a combination of support from a range of health professionals, social services, financial support, and help from family and carers.

How family and carers can help

As a carer, you can help rehabilitation in a variety of ways

  • You can help a stroke survivor to practise tasks set by their therapists.
  • You can give emotional support to help them stay motivated and positive.
  • Try changing your behaviour to meet the person's needs (such as speaking more slowly if they find it hard to understand).
  • Learn skills to deal with specific challenges (such as helping the stroke survivor move around their home). But being a carer brings its own challenges

Caring for somebody who is recovering from a stroke can be physically and emotionally draining.

Carers can have similar emotional difficulties to the person they care for, including depression, anxiety or anger.

Help is available

Speak to your GP if you find your negative emotions have a serious impact on your life.

Negative emotions can also get in the way of a stroke survivor's progress. So make the most of the help that is available.

You can ask social services for a home assessment that may lead to some form of support.

How health professionals can help

One or more of a range of health professionals may be able to help with the longer-term problems associated with stroke.

A physiotherapist can help tackle weakness or paralysis. They help stroke survivors to regain mobility and muscle control (for example by helping them learn to balance or move around again).

An occupational therapist helps people do the day-to-day activities that can be difficult to do after a stroke, such as washing, dressing and eating.

They also help people return to their normal leisure activities and support them as they learn skills so that they can return to work.

A speech and language therapist tackles the damage done to communication skills, so that stroke survivors are more able to speak, read write and understand.

A dietician can provide advice on eating a healthy diet, especially for people who have difficulty swallowing, have weight problems or have diabetes.

A healthy diet is important for reducing the risk of strokes in the future.

If a stroke has affected a person's eyesight, an ophthalmologist or optician can recommend aids such as glasses or an eye patch.

A clinical psychologist or psychiatrist can help with problems to do with processing information, such as recognising people. They can also help people deal with the emotional difficulties caused by stroke, but this can also be the role of a community psychiatric nurse.

Sometimes a chiropodist will help with foot problems that have been caused by paralysis or lack of movement.

A continence adviser can help with bowel and bladder problems.

If you have had a stroke, your GP can refer you to these services. You can also contact them yourself or ask for a home assessment before you leave hospital to identify you care needs.

Getting back to day-to-day life

Stroke affects everybody differently, and people recover from stroke at different rates. So it is impossible to say immediately after a stroke if or when a person will be able to return to the day-to-day life that they lived previously.

But if you have had a stroke, there are several areas to which you will need to pay special consideration.

Going back to work

Your GP or a member of the stroke care team will help decide if you are well enough to work.

But you should also discuss options with your employer, including whether you want to go back to work full time, part time or if you could take on a new post within the same organisation.

You can also talk to an Employment Advisor at a local Jobcentre Plus, who will give advice about disability, retraining and transferable skills.

Driving After a stroke or a transient ischaemic attack (TIA),

You are not allowed to drive for at least a month or one year if you drive a large goods vehicle (LGV) or a passenger carrying vehicle (PCV).

The extent of the damage the stroke has caused and the type of vehicle you drive will affect whether you can drive again. But if you are still recovering after a month, you may have to inform the DVLA of your situation.

Your GP can arrange for an assessment at a mobility centre, if necessary.

If you develop epilepsy after a stroke, you will not be allowed a licence for a normal car until you have been free of fits, commonly for a year (or longer for public-service vehicles or heavy goods vehicles).

Holidays and insurance

Some stroke survivors find that the rapid rate of recovery in the first few weeks after their stroke makes them feel able to travel. But sometimes there are complications which make travelling difficult, or a long journey can make the tiredness caused by stroke much worse.

As with driving and going back to work, it is a good idea to speak to your GP about whether a holiday is a good idea.


Stroke Prevention:

There are many factors that can increase your risk of stroke, including:

  • Your genes
  • Your age
  • Diet
  • The amount of alcohol you drink
  • Smoking, and
  • How fit you are.

But there are simple lifestyle changes you can make to reduce the risk of stroke.

This section explains:

  • The risk factors that you cannot change
  • How getting a health check can help prevent stroke
  • The importance of reducing smoking and alcohol intake, and
  • How healthy eating and exercise can reduce your risk of stroke.

The advice 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 change

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.

Your sex:

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.

Your age:

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

Your ethnic background:

Although we don't yet know why, people of South Asian, African or African-Caribbean origin are more likely to have a stroke than the rest of the population.

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 so that you can take steps to live a healthier lifestyle.

Getting help from your GP

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.

Control medical conditions you may have

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 check your pulse to find out if you have AF.

Get help for stress and depression:

Stress and depression can impact on your body, contribute to long-term health problems and make a stroke more likely.

Your GP will be able to prescribe medication or refer you to another health professional or counsellor, who you can talk to about things that you are finding difficult in life.

Make an informed decision about the contraceptive pill and hormone replacement therapy (HRT)

Both the contraceptive pill and HRT affect the level of hormones in a woman's blood.

Hormones can make the blood thicker and more likely to clot, and they may increase the risk of high blood pressure.

Always discuss treatments with your doctor and make a decision that is right for you.

As well as making the most of the support of your GP, you should stop smoking and reduce your alcohol intake and improve your diet and exercise regime.

Smoking and drinking:

  • 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.
  • So 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) in particular can cause your blood pressure to increase rapidly which greatly increases the risk of a stroke.
  • Don't drink every day or exceed the recommended limits.
  • Women should not drink more than two to three units of alcohol a day (if you are pregnant, you should not drink at all).
  • Men should have no more than three to four units a day.
  • A unit of alcohol is a small glass of wine, a single measure of spirits or half a pint of weak beer or lager.

Healthy eating and exercise:

Diet and exercise are an important part of stroke prevention

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

Regular physical activity lowers your blood pressure, helps balance fats in your body and improves your ability to handle insulin.

Eating well and exercising also help you to lose weight

Being overweight increases your chances of high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, all of which can increase your chances of stroke.

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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