Acting fast is critical when someone has a stroke as it can minimise the long-term effects of the stroke and may save the person’s life. It is therefore vital, especially for older people and those at increased risk of stroke, to be able to recognise the symptoms of a stroke when it happens. This can allow you to instantly seek appropriate medical care and ensure the best possible outcome.
In this article we will look at what happens during a stroke, how to spot the most common signs, what some of the less common symptoms are, how often strokes are misdiagnosed, some of the things strokes are commonly mistaken for and what to do if your stroke has been misdiagnosed.
What happens during a stroke
A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off. This is most often due to a blocked artery (for example from a blood clot) or a burst blood vessel. The precise effects of a stroke will depend on what part of the brain is affected and how much of the brain tissue is deprived of blood.
If the blood supply can be quickly restored, the effects of the stroke may only be temporary. However, if the blood supply is not restored fast enough, it can lead to permanent damage or even death. Around two-thirds of people who survive a stroke will be left with some level of disability.
Using FAST to recognise the symptoms of a stroke
The FAST mnemonic is designed as an easy way to help you recognise some of the most common signs of a stroke. It stands for:
Face dropping – Often the first visible sign of a stroke is one side of a person’s face dropping. Their face may feel numb and if they smile it is likely to look uneven. You can check this for yourself in a mirror.
Arm weakness – Weakness or numbness in one arm can be another sign of stroke. Try raising both arms (or asking the person you think might be having a stroke to do this) and see if one arm drifts downwards. This is a sign of weakness and could indicate a stroke.
Speech difficulty – Someone having a stroke may begin slurring their speech or struggle to speak at all. Repeating a simple sentence can make this easy to spot.
Time to call 999 – If you or anyone else shows any of the three symptoms above, you should call an ambulance straightaway so they can get the care they need.
Other warning signs for a stroke
While FAST acts as a good system for recognising the most common symptoms of a stroke, not all strokes present in the same way. Some of the other symptoms you might come across include:
- Numbness, loss of sensation, weakness or paralysis in any part of the body
- Trouble walking, loss of balance and/or coordination
- Blurred vision or other trouble with your eyesight in one or both eyes
- Severe headaches
- Muscle stiffness
- Trouble swallowing
- Involuntary eyes movements
- Difficulty understanding speech
- Memory loss
- Behavioural changes
How often is a stroke misdiagnosed?
Around 1 in 10 people who suffer a stroke may be misdiagnosed, which can significantly increase the risks of their being left with life changing disabilities or even lead to their death. Stroke misdiagnosis is therefore potentially extremely serious, so it is important to recognise the symptoms of a stroke so these can be communicated to doctors as soon as possible. This increases your chances of receiving a correct diagnosis and can significantly improve the potential outcome.
Things strokes are commonly mistaken for
Depending on the symptoms, strokes can be misdiagnosed as a number of other ailments. This is especially common in the young, for whom strokes are relatively rare. For example, difficulty with balance will often be put down to an inner ear infection, while memory loss or behavioural change could be attributed to the early signs of dementia in older patients.
Again, this makes it really important to recognise all the various possible signs of a stroke, so you can give doctors a clear breakdown of anything that could be a potential symptom. This will make it much easier for them to put the different symptoms together and come up with the correct diagnosis.
What to do if your stroke has been misdiagnosed
Stroke misdiagnosis can be the result of clinical negligence, in which case it may be possible to make a claim for compensation. If you or someone who care for has been left with a permanent disability as the result of a stroke that was misdiagnosed, or diagnosed too slowly, compensation can help to pay for carers, special equipment and adaptions to your home, making life more comfortable and allowing you or your loved one to live independently.