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What are the key signs and symptoms of stroke and the importance of early detection and treatment

As we approach World Stroke Day on Sunday, 29 October, I’m reminded of the importance of awareness of the signs and symptoms of stroke. As someone who has had personal experience of friends and family suffering strokes, as well as helping clients navigate litigation relating to delay in diagnosis, I know early recognition leads to better outcomes for our loved ones. 

What is a stroke? 

A stroke can occur when there's a restriction of the blood supply to the brain. This can be where a blood clot interrupts the blood flow to the brain. A stroke can also occur when there is a bleed in or around the brain. 

What is a TIA?

While most of us have heard of stroke, some may not have heard of a TIA (transient ischaemic attack). This is often known as a mini-stroke and while the symptoms are similar to a stroke, it can last as little as a few minutes. It's critical to follow up on these symptoms and not to brush them off, as a TIA means you’re at increased risk of having a stroke in the future.  

Red flag symptoms of a stroke 

The NHS launched a campaign to help recognise the signs and symptoms of a stroke / TIA and to act F.A.S.T. 

The key signs to look out for are:

  • Face – the face may have dropped to one side. 
  • Arm – relates to weakness. Can the person lift their arms?
  • S – slurred speech.
  • T – time to call 999. 

Other symptoms of a potential stroke

The F.A.S.T signs identify most strokes, but occasionally they can cause other symptoms, such as one of my clients who experienced a sudden and powerful headache (which she described as akin to receiving a punch to the head) which then subsided. What she had experienced was a thunderclap headache – an uncommon symptom but a medical emergency nonetheless. As the pain following a thunderclap headache can subside within minutes, it can often be falsely reassuring. However, in these cases, urgent medical help is still required. 

The importance of quick diagnosis and treatment

Stroke is a time critical condition. The diagnosis pathway will vary depending on whether the person has suffered from an acute stroke or a TIA. With an acute stroke, the patient should receive a brain scan within one hour of attending hospital. The scan will help identify whether the patient has suffered from a bleed or a restriction of blood flow to the brain and will assist doctors determining how best to help. 

For some, treatment may include a thrombectomy, where a blood clot is removed during surgery to restore blood flow to the brain. A thrombectomy is recommended within six hours of a patient experiencing symptoms, demonstrating how early recognition of strokes can also influence treatment decisions. 

The impact of a stroke can vary depending on the location of the damage to the brain. Strokes can result in physical restrictions and difficulty with communication. Time is therefore of the essence when determining diagnosis and treatment which can limit the damage to the brain, improving outcomes for patients and in some cases ensuring life-saving treatment. 

The postcode lottery of treatment

Unfortunately, there are currently large variations across the country in getting access to treatment, and while at least 10% of stroke patients are suitable for thrombectomy in England, only 3.3% receive it, according to charity the Stroke Association

There are still patients who are missing out on this treatment due to a “postcode lottery” and more investment is needed from NHS England to expand access to this treatment to everyone who may need it. 

What are my legal rights following misdiagnosis or treatment?

The Stroke Association reports that stroke strikes every five minutes. It’s a leading cause of death and disability in the UK. It’s vitally important that we can spot the signs of a stroke and obtain early medical treatment. 

Through my work I see first-hand the crushing impact where strokes are misdiagnosed or untreated in accordance with the established guidelines.

Stroke survivors or those who have loved ones impacted by a stroke may have various concerns relating to their treatment - from failing to diagnose the stroke, failing to implement timely investigations and treatment or even failing to identify a deterioration. Strokes can occur through cardiovascular causes and may also have infectious causes. Delay in diagnosing and treating these conditions, can result in an avoidable stroke. 

If you believe that you or a loved one haven’t received appropriate treatment or there have been delays and it’s caused an injury, then you're able to speak to specialist solicitors like me and my team who can advise on what the most appropriate way forward is and whether a there is a legal claim for damages.

A legal claim can not only provide answers but also access to specialist rehabilitation and therapies to try and live with the effects of the condition, or specialist support to try and come to terms with a bereavement.

Find out more about Irwin Mitchell's expertise in supporting patients and loved ones affected by stroke at our dedicated stroke claims section