Strokes are no longer something that younger generations can put aside as affecting only older people. With strokes on the rise among working-age people in their 40s and 50s, experts are urging us to become more familiar with the signs and symptoms, as well as the lasting effects, and methods of stroke treatment and prevention. With approximately 152,000 strokes per year, it is the leading cause of adult disability in the UK.
The Lasting Effects
In the majority of cases, stroke victims are left with some form of disability of varying severity. This is due to the reduced blood flow to the brain caused by a blood clot in the arteries. The longer the clot is blocking blood flow, the more pronounced the lasting damage is likely to be.
For many stroke victims, of working age especially, there are further effects which must be considered. As a result of stroke, people can suffer paralysis on one side of their body, have speech difficulties, suffer from depression, or have trouble with memory and concentration. All of these effects can cause stroke sufferers to struggle with returning to work, as well as affect their ability to drive, communicate, and impact upon family life.
Following a stroke, the NHS provides treatment for recovery which includes physiotherapy, psychological support, and treatment to encourage the recovery of cognitive functions. This treatment, however, can become unnecessary if the right treatment is given to prevent damage happening in the first place.
What is the available stroke treatment?
The type of treatment received immediately following a stroke depends upon the type of stroke suffered: ischaemic, which is caused by a blood clot, or haemorrhagic, which is caused by bleeding in or around the brain. The majority of treatment is medication-based. In the case of a blood clot, medication can be given within the first 4.5 hours which can dissolve the clot itself, though this isn’t always entirely effective. After the 4.5 hours has elapsed, this treatment is no longer possible. A brain scan must take place before the medication is given as it can actually worsen the situation if the person be suffering from a bleed on the brain.
Other medication can be given on a long-term basis which can have a number of different effects including reducing the chances of the blood clotting again, reducing blood pressure, or reducing cholesterol.
Surgery is an option in some cases. The most common forms of surgery involve unblocking arteries narrowed by fatty deposits (known as a carotid endarterectomy), or emergency surgery following a haemorrhagic stroke which removes the blood from around the brain and repairs the burst blood vessels.
Recent Research into Treatment
Recent research carried out by Newcastle University, Northumbria University, the Oxford Academic Health Science Network, and the National Institute for Health Research, suggests that up to 9000 patients per year could benefit from another type of surgery called Thrombectomy. This procedure involves using an expandable mesh which is inserted into the artery and is used to ‘net’ the clot.
The benefits of this procedure are vast, as it is the fastest and most effective way to remove a clot and prevent a more significant proportion of the long-lasting damage.
Sadly, the UK is currently struggling with understaffing in the area of stroke treatment, with specialist consultants particularly lacking. In order for all those eligible for the procedure to receive the necessary treatment, more staff and consultants need to be recruited and trained in the procedure.
Despite the lack of specialists and the rarity of the Thrombectomy procedure, Professor Tony Rudd, national clinical director for stroke at NHS England, believes that stroke care and survival are at record levels.
Stroke survival, however, does not just rely on hospital treatment, but on spotting the signs of stroke and reacting quickly. Prevention of stroke is also key, with people aged 40 and over advised to keep an eye on their cholesterol levels and their blood pressure, and to maintain a healthy and active lifestyle.
For more advice and information on all aspects of stroke, from signs and symptoms to aftercare and treatment, visit the NHS choices website. The Stroke Association, a registered UK charity, also has a website which provides in-depth information and support for stroke victims and their families.