What is stroke?

A stroke is a brain attack. It happens when the blood supply to part of your brain is cut off.

Blood carries essential nutrients and oxygen to your brain; without this brain cells are damaged and cannot function.

Because your brain controls everything you do, a stroke can affect the way your body is able to function. This may affect physical processes such as movement; mental processes such understanding and learning; and communication.

STROKE IS A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. The sooner doctors are able to diagnose the condition and treat the patient, the better the recovery potential. Therefore it is essential to recognise the symptoms and promptly ring 999.

Symptoms of a stroke

We recommend you use the Face-Arm-Speech Test (act FAST):

F – Face: ask the person to smile.  Is there a drooping of the mouth at one side?
A – Arm: ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downwards? 

S – Speech: can the person speak clearly and understand what is said to them? 

T – Time: call 999 if they show any of the above symptoms. 

A stroke is sudden, and the effects on your body are immediate.

Symptoms can also include loss of vision, loss of balance and coordination, numbness or only mild weakness.      
If the symptoms resolve within minutes, you may have had a transient ischaemic attack (TIA or mini stroke). This is a warning sign; and you should contact your GP or your local emergency department immediately as you are at risk of a permanently disabling stroke.  Your GP will have an urgent referral number/ fax to call, which will ensure you are seen by a stroke specialist within a few days

Types of stroke

There are 2 main types of stroke:

Ischaemic stroke: is caused by a blockage in the brain, and accounts for 85% of strokes. This maybe caused by a blood clot.

Haemorrhagic stroke: is a bleed in or around the brain, which maybe caused by a burst blood vessel.

What should I do if a stroke occurs?

CALL 999 - Every minute counts.

The longer blood flow is cut off to the brain, the greater the damage.

For some patients ischaemic stroke may sometimes be helped by a blood thinning drug (Thrombolysis, or Alteplase); which can dissolve the clots blocking the flow. However, this needs to be given as soon as possible after stroke has occurred. If you think you have had a stroke, get to hospital immediately.

Take action. If a stroke or TIA occurs you need to remember:

  • not all warning signs occur in every stroke; don’t ignore the signs, even if they go away
  • check the time, when did the first symptom start? You will be asked this important question.
  • if you or someone with you has one or more stroke symptoms, immediately call 999 for an ambulance.