A stroke occurs when the blood supply to your brain is disrupted due to a blockage or bleeding in the brain. According to the Stroke Association, 152,000 strokes happen in the UK every year, meaning that a stroke happens every 3 minutes 27 seconds.
As a stroke is a medical emergency, and the sooner it is treated, the less damage it is likely to cause, recognising a stroke is extremely important. Although strokes are more common in older people, a stroke could happen to anyone, at any time, so could occur in at home or on the street or even in the workplace. This means that everyone needs to be aware of how to recognise a stroke, and those in charge of others (e.g. employers, line managers) need to be particularly sure they know how to recognise and deal with a stroke.
How to recognise a stroke
The symptoms of a stroke come on suddenly and vary in severity according to which part of the brain is damaged, and how widespread the damage is.
The main symptoms to look out for are:
- physical problems in one side of the body, such as weakness, numbness or drooping in one side of the face;
- speech problems, such as slurred or garbled speech or difficulty finding the right words;
- visual problems, such as blurred vision or loss of vision.
Other symptoms include a sudden, severe headache, confusion, dizziness and loss of consciousness.
If you see someone suddenly experiencing any of these symptoms, call 999 immediately.
The Stroke Association has a handy mnemonic to help you remember how to recognise a stroke. This is called the FAST message.
- Facial weakness –can the person smile? Has their face dropped on one side?
- Arm weakness – can they lift both arms in the air and hold them there?
- Speech problems – can they talk without mixing up words or slurring their speech?
- Time to call 999. If an individual is suddenly unable to do the above tasks, call 999 immediately.
How to decrease your risk of stroke
Some people are more at risk than others of having a stroke. Though there are some factors, such as age and ethnicity that you cannot do anything about, you can control some risk factors. The following measures can help you decrease your risk of stroke.
- Stop smoking. As smoking can damage your blood vessels and increases blood pressure, it increases your risk of stroke. Quitting smoking is one of the best things you can do for your overall health. See the NHS Choices website for help on giving up smoking. Employers looking for advice on discouraging smoking in the workplace can see this post.
- Keep physically fit. Keeping active is extremely important for your overall health, and helps lower your risk of high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes – all of which are associated with stroke. Many workplaces are now promoting fitness and encouraging workers to exercise for the recommended amount – 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week, as well as strength exercises.
- Eat healthily. Healthy eating can help you stay physically and mentally well, and regularly eating a balanced diet – which is low in salty and fatty foods – decreases your risk of stroke, and many other diseases. Workers may find it easier to eat healthily if their workplace encourages healthy eating.
- Drink less. As drinking excessive amounts of alcohol raises your blood pressure, this increases your risk of stroke. Binge drinking is particularly dangerous as it can cause your blood pressure to rise very quickly. If you want to reduce your alcohol intake, see the Drink Aware website, while employers who are concerned about an employee’s drinking can see this post.
For advice on keeping healthy both in and outside of work, call the Fit for Work advice line on 0800 032 6235 to speak to a trained advisor (call 0800 032 6233 for advice in Welsh and 0800 019 2211 for those in Scotland). The Fit for Work Advice Hub also contains lots of useful information on health at work topics.
Stroke survivors who have been off work for a month or more can ask their GP or employer to refer them to Fit for Work for case managed support to help them return to work. As a Fit for Work assessment uses a biopsychosocial approach, all obstacles preventing a person from returning to work will be discussed. Where a return to work is appropriate, the assessment will result in a Return to Work Plan.