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The importance of diagnosing and treating a stroke early

November 30, 2023
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Written by Ami Dollery, Associate Chartered Legal Executive and Professor Sharma, Consultant Neurologist and stroke specialist 

What is a stroke? 

The NHS website defines a stroke as: “A serious, life-threatening medical condition that happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off.”  

A stroke can have a significant impact on the short-term, and sometimes long-term, health of an individual. If a person suffers any sign of a stroke, it is crucial that their condition is monitored and treated quickly.  

Types of stroke  

There are two main types of stroke: ischaemic strokes and haemorrhagic strokes.  

Ischaemic strokes are more common. They are caused by a blood clot blocking the flow of oxygen and blood to the brain and, typically, the blood clots form where arteries have been narrowed by fatty deposits, also known as plaques. This is known as “atherosclerosis” and, whilst this can happen naturally as part of the ageing process, the risk factors which expedite the process of atherosclerosis are:- 

  • High blood pressure (hypertension) 
  • Being obese 
  • Having high cholesterol 
  • Suffering from diabetes 
  • Smoking 
  • Drinking over the recommended amount of alcohol  

The second, less common, type of stroke is a haemorrhagic stroke. This is also known as a cerebral or intracranial haemorrhage. This is caused by a burst blood vessel inside the skull, which then bleeds around and inside the brain. The main cause for this type of stroke is hypertension, as this condition weakens the arteries in the brain, increasing the risk of rupture. Further factors which increase the risk of this condition are:- 

  • Smoking 
  • Sedentary lifestyle/lack of exercise 
  • Anxiety and stress 
  • Drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol 
  • Being obese or overweight 

Treating a stroke  

It is well known that the sooner a stroke is diagnosed and treated, the better the outcome. Fast diagnosis and treatment can prevent long term disability and death.  

For an ischaemic stroke, treatment is with thrombolysis, or “clot buster” medication. However, this medication can only be administered if the stroke symptoms began less than 4.5 hours before the medication is given.  

With haemorrhagic strokes, it is sometimes necessary for surgery to be undertaken, and a review of medications to assess the cause and prevent further episodes.  

Time-critical interventions 

Professor Sharma, Consultant Neurologist and stroke specialist, commented as follows: 

“Stroke is the third most common cause of death, the second most frequent reason for dementia, and the most common cause of disability.  

“The management of patients who have suffered a stroke consumes around 7% of the entire NHS budget.  

“As an age-related disorder, the frequency of stroke across the globe is increasing. Whilst age is most associated with stroke, the most common modifiable risk factor is high blood pressure. Herein lies some hope, as better management of blood pressure is leading to a reduction in stroke incidence. 

“Another light at the end of the tunnel is in treatment options. Previously a therapeutic desert, in recent decades there has been a mushrooming of potential interventions.  

“At the acute stroke level, the use of clot busting thrombolytic drugs, and more recently the increasing availability of direct mechanical clot removal has transformed immediate care: although use of these interventions is highly time critical.  

“At the secondary prevention level, prescribing combinations of anti-platelet drugs has limited subsequent stroke events in those at risk, while aggressive management of hypertension and hypercholesterolaemia has helped in primary prevention.  

“It is therefore little wonder that cholesterol and BP lowering medications are some of the most prescribed in the world.  

“We are fortunate to be living in an age with advances in medical knowledge and technology is able to prevent and treat diseases such as stroke in a far more effective manner than previous generations. To paraphrase President Obama, if you could choose a time in human history to live, it would be now.” 

To conclude, everyone should be aware of the symptoms of a stroke and if there is any suspicion that you or a loved one may be suffering from stroke symptoms, you should seek immediate urgent medical advice and confirm to the clinician that you suspect a stroke.  The quicker a stroke is diagnosed, the better chance of an excellent outcome and recovery.  

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If you or someone you love has suffered due to medical negligence during the treatment of a stroke, you might have a medical negligence claim. Call us on 0330 013 0249 or contact us online.   



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