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Don’t ignore stroke symptoms, doctors urge

12 March 2012

Health Care

Stroke experts at Southend University Hospital are urging patients not to let their brains die by ignoring important symptoms.

Their warning comes after a dramatic fall in the number of people dialling 999 for an ambulance after the first indications they are suffering a stroke. During last year's national FAST* campaign, when advertisements were shown on prime-time TV, Southend doctors were seeing six out of 10 stroke casualties within the recommended three hours of the first symptoms. But since the publicity has been off-air, the number has dropped to just four in 10. And that, says lead stroke physician, Dr Paul Guyler, is having devastating repercussions for the patient and their family.

He said: "People are not calling for help quickly enough. As soon as a stroke starts - even a very mild one - part of the brain dies at the rate of two million cells per minute.

"The faster people call an ambulance, the sooner we can stop the damage and give the patient the chance to be fully independent again."

When ambulance crews are called to a suspected stroke, they phone ahead to the hospital so that the patient is seen immediately upon arrival and given any necessary scan. A stroke consultant is on call 24/7 to interpret the scan and give clot-busting drugs where appropriate.

Dr Guyler said: "The sooner the drugs are administered, the less the damage caused by the stroke."

He also stressed the need to seek help when stroke symptoms - often just described as 'a funny turn' - are just fleeting, as they are frequently the precursor to a full-blown stroke.

"Even if you recover rapidly, it is important to get immediate help as one in eight people who have a transient ischaemic attack (TIA), or mini stroke which disappears quickly, will go on to have a major stroke. This means calling an ambulance so that their condition can be assessed. If they are high-risk they will be admitted and treated to prevent a stroke, and if they are low-risk they will be referred to our specialist clinic within a week for appropriate treatment."

This may be involve a carotid endarterectomy to remove any build up of dangerous debris (atheroma) which impedes the flow of blood to the brain in the carotid artery.SouthendUniversityhas two specialist vascular surgeons, Mr Matthew Jakeways and Mr James Brown, who work closely as a team to perform these operations.

Dr Guyler said: "There is so much we can do to help people who suffer a stroke or TIA and give them their life back and prevent them being permanently disabled.

"For those who experience fleeting stroke symptoms, we can reduce their risk of a full stroke by more than 80 per cent if we get them here in time. Our expert surgeons are highly-skilled and do more of these operations than any other hospital in the region - so our patients are in safe hands."

Mr Brown added: "People having a heart attack have pain as a warning. With stroke it might be slurred speech or weakness in their limbs. This is a brain attack and - like a heart attack - needs immediate treatment." 

*FAST :

  • Facial weakness
  • Arm or leg weakness
  • Speech problems
  • Time to call 999