The National Brain Appeal raises funds to improve the treatment of people who have neurological and neuromuscular conditions including acquired brain injuries through stroke.

The fundraising has not only helped with investing in vital state-of-the-art hospital equipment but also financed major building programmes and much-needed ongoing medical research. All of this has saved lives and helped those suffering from brain damage to achieve a better quality of life.

Stroke is still the fourth largest cause of death in the UK, so it’s imperative that our work continues and the prospects for stroke survivors improve.


Why do strokes occur?

Strokes occur because of abnormalities or disease in our blood circulation system. There are two types of stroke, both of which can lead to a brain injury:

1) Haemorrhagic stroke – where blood leaks into the brain after blood vessels burst; and

2) Ischaemic stroke – where a blood clot forms in the blood vessels and results in blocking the blood supply to the brain

When a person suffers from either of these types of stroke, oxygen to the brain is reduced and results in brain cells dying and sometimes causing permanent injury or even death.

Only rapid treatment can limit the extent of any damage and improve the outlook for stroke patients.


What are the signs and symptoms of a stroke?

There are number of tell-tale signs to look out for. A severe headache, followed by confusion and vision problems can be a major indicator that a stroke has taken place. There are also other common symptoms that form part of the widely-used FAST acronym:

F – Face drooping or palsy.

A – Arms cannot be lifted.

S – Speech is slurred.

T – Time to call emergency services.

Usually, time is the most critical factor.

Research has shown that patients who receive treatment within one hour of displaying these symptoms are much less likely to have a permanent disability. Medication can be administered quickly in order to dissolve blood clots and control any haemorrhaging that has occurred.

Delayed treatment means a much higher likelihood of more extensive brain damage, so it’s imperative to always err on the side of caution and seek help immediately. Depending upon which part of the brain has been affected, a variety of long-term problems can result:

– speech and language may be impaired;

– depression and emotional issues often occur; and

– difficulty moving or some form of paralysis is common.


Who is most at risk?

For many people, strokes can be prevented by lifestyle changes. Ischaemic strokes are largely caused by unhealthy lifestyle habits or previous health problems. Certain behaviours can lead to a build up of fatty deposits on blood vessel walls. These can cause arteries to narrow and increase the likelihood of blockages.

The main factors that contribute to ischaemic strokes include:

– smoking;

– excessive alcohol consumption;

– obesity; and/or

– lack of physical exercise.

When you consider that around 85% of all strokes are ischaemic, it becomes clear that positive lifestyle changes can significantly reduce your risk.

Haemorrhagic strokes are generally not caused by lifestyle, but can mostly be attributed to genetic factors that produce abnormal blood vessels. However, there is some evidence that overuse of blood thinning medication may also increase the risk of haemorrhage.


What treatments are there?

Initially, treatment focuses on thrombolysis – clot-busting drugs, which aim to dissolve the blockage in vein or artery to restore blood flow. However, for some individuals with large blood clots blocking major arteries to the brain this treatment is not effective, so another treatment called thrombectomy can be used. This invloves passing a catheter up the artery, ensnaring the blood clot and pulling it out so that blood flow is restored. The National Brain Appeal is currently raising money to expand the thrombectomy service in Queen Square so up to 400 patients a year can access this life-changing treatment. Support the appeal:

After treatment, attention then turns to the rehabilitation process. The aim is to try and restore physical and mental capabilities, while also assisting patients in becoming used to their limitations. There is a large neurorehab centre in Queen Square, and the upper limb clinic is attended by many stroke patients to get their arm movements back to a level where they can be as independent as possible. The National Brain Appeal has funded a number of supportive arm and hand devices for people to recover their function.

To supplement any improvements, changes should also be made to any unhealthy lifestyle choices that may increase the risk of further strokes.