Rapid treatment vital for stroke victims
Stroke care continues to make big advances, with more patients being seen and treated than ever before. In this special report, spoke with East Kent NHS clinical lead about the challenges faced by patients and medical staff
Imagine losing the ability to walk, talk and even remember the most important moments in your life.
These are the challenges that stroke victims face, as their brains lose 1.8 million cells every minute but getting seen quickly at a specialist stroke unit, such as the Richard Stevens Unit at the William Harvey Hospital in Ashford, could make the difference when it comes to patients to make a full recovery.
Romanian lorry driver Roman Sorin, 46, found himself in the hospital after realising he was having trouble with his balance last month.
Mr Sorin reported problems after having a stressful day on the roads and woke up with chest pains and breathing trouble. He has been driving for 18 years and previously suffered a stroke four years ago.
Fortunately after he was taken to hospital, experts were able to get him to the stroke unit for assessment, where he began his recovery last month.
He said: “I had a stressful day, when getting out of bed I felt sick The key signs to look out for in stroke victims are the persons face, arms and speech.
If the person is not able to smile, or one side of their face droops, it could be a sign they have suffered a stroke. Similarly, one should check if a person is able to raise both arms and also check if a person’s speech is slurred and was vomiting. After that I had chest pains and breathing apnoea. I am scared because I don’t want to have another fall but I am happy with the treatment I have had.” or muddled.
The Think FAST advice says that if you spot these symptoms, call 999. Other signs can include paralysis, sudden loss or blurring of vision, dizziness, confusion, difficulty understanding what others are saying, problems with balance and co-ordination and difficulty swallowing.
Mr Sorin now faces a few months off work to recover and says he wants to ditch his smoking habit.
His case is typical for the team at the Richard Stevens Unit.
Dr David Hargroves is the East Kent NHS Trust’s (EKHUFT) consultant physician and clinical lead for stroke medicine, responsible for looking after patients across hospitals in the area.
He said care for patients continues to make huge strides forward, with the advance of brain imaging technology such as MRI scans, and drugs to clear blood clots which used to prove fatal.
Dr Hargroves said: “A patient can lose nearly two million brain cells a minute, so the speed to get a patient to a stroke care unit is really important.”
But diagnosing the type of stroke someone has had and the right treatment is also of huge importance. One type of treatment is a mechanical thrombectomy, which is used to treat those with the most severe form of stroke and was approved for use in east Kent in April this year. The rare procedure uses a wire which is inserted into the leg and extends up to the brain to clear blocked blood vessels.
Other forms of thrombolysis are used to remove blood clots, where powerful drugs can be used. About 20% of patients can be treated using the method but only around 7% need it.
Dr Hargroves said: “These are very potent drugs and very dangerous if given to the wrong patient. They could bleed to death. So with every case you have to balance the risk versus the benefit to the patient.
“Last year I treated a pregnant woman and you have to think of the unborn baby.”
He added: “There are also other neurological conditions which to the public might look like a stroke. So making the correct diagnosis can be one of the most challenging things we do.”
Overall, he said that diagnosis and treatment is improving but the impact of unhealthy lifestyles can still have an impact, with adults who smoke or are obese in their 20s or 30s being at greater risk of suffering a stroke in their 50s or 60s.