Am I at risk of a Stroke? Dr Joseph Kwan reveals everything you need to know

Consultant News

For Stroke Awareness Month we sat down with Dr Joseph Kwan, Consultant Specialist at The Stroke Unit, who talked us through everything you need to know about a stroke. Revealing all about the two main types of stroke to who is most at risk, the warning signs and the common misconceptions.

What is a stroke?

A stroke occurs when blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off, starving the brain cells of oxygen and glucose. The brain cells then start to malfunction and can eventually die if not treated quickly, leading to facial or limb weakness, speech disturbance, visual loss and problem with walking. Stroke is one of the most feared medical conditions because it can turn a person from being independent to disabled in an instant.

Dr Joseph Khan
Dr Joseph Kwan, Consultant Specialist at The Stroke Unit

What are the most common types of strokes?

There are two main types of stroke. The first type is called an ischaemic stroke, which is similar to a heart attack, except it occurs in the brain. It occurs when a clot blocks the brain’s blood vessel. About 80% of all strokes are ischaemic. The second type is called a haemorrhagic stroke, which is when a blood vessel in the brain breaks or ruptures. The result is blood seeping into the brain tissue, causing damage to the brain cells. These two types can present in similar ways, hence brain imaging (e.g. CT or MRI scan) is necessary to differentiate between them.

What are the warning signs?

Stroke is an emergency. It is important that you know the following warning signs of a stroke:

• Weakness or numbness of the face, arm, or leg on one side of the body
• Loss of speech, difficulty talking, or understanding what others are saying
• Loss or blurring of vision in one or both eyes
• Loss of balance or unstable walking, usually combined with other symptom(s)

The commonly used acronym “FAST” denotes “Face, Arm Speech & Telephone for Treatment”.

A stroke should be suspected if at least one of these signs is present, which must then prompt an urgent 999 call to seek immediate medical help.

Are there any common misconceptions?

One common misconception is that stroke is not treatable. The truth is that emergency interventions delivered by stroke specialists can restore blood flow to the brain and improve the chances of recovery and survival.

The second misconception is that stroke is an inevitable consequence of ageing. The truth is that up to 50% of strokes are preventable, and many risk factors can be controlled before they cause problems.

What are the controllable risk factors?

• High blood pressure (hypertension)
• High blood sugar (diabetes)
• Irregular heart beat (atrial fibrillation)
• High cholesterol
• Smoking and excessive alcohol
• Sedentary life style and obesity
• Disease of the neck (carotid) and coronary arteries

A specialist can help you evaluate your risk of having a stroke and control the risk factors. Some people experience warning signs before a stroke occurs, these are called transient ischemic attacks (TIA or “mini-stroke”), which are brief episodes of the stroke symptoms lasting less than 24 hours. Urgent assessment and treatment of a TIA by a stroke specialist can effectively prevent a stroke.

What treatment do you offer at The Stroke Unit?

The Stroke Unit at The Hospital of St John & St Elizabeth is a leading private unit that offers a comprehensive, individualised and holistic stroke rehabilitation programme in a luxurious and private setting in a central London location. Intensive physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech and language therapy and neuropsychology sessions are provided in the mornings and afternoons, with daily consultations from expert consultants and resident medical officer cover 24/7.

What are the benefits of a patient coming to The Stroke Unit?

Patients will receive organised inpatient care by a multidisciplinary stroke care team led by a team of Consultant Neurologists, physicians, nurses and therapists for individualised treatments and rehabilitation. The Stroke Unit care is proven to increase the chance of survival, good functional recovery and independent living.

Make an appointment

We have seven expert stroke consultants at The Stroke Unit including Dr Joseph Kwan available for appointments. For appointments and enquires please email stroke@hje.org.uk or call 020 7806 4075.

Flexible appointment times are available.

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