Campaign raises awareness that stroke affects younger people too

Paul and his daughter Emily, who called an ambulance when he fell ill.
Picture: Stroke Association

Paul and his daughter Emily, who called an ambulance when he fell ill. Picture: Stroke Association - Credit: Archant

Figures suggest a higher proportion of strokes are now occurring in middle-aged people, like marathon runner Paul Brough, who was a fit 47-year-old when his life changed in an instant.

Paul Brough, who is fighting back to fitness after suffering a stroke. Paul takes part in a fundrais

Paul Brough, who is fighting back to fitness after suffering a stroke. Paul takes part in a fundraising run for the Stroke Association next month. Picture: Stroke Association - Credit: Archant

“It was a normal Sunday morning and I’d been out of bed for about five minutes, getting dressed to take my daughter riding, when suddenly I just crashed to the ground,” he says. “My instant reaction was to stand. I got up partially, then collapsed again. I knew something was seriously wrong.”

Paul, a research chemist with normal blood pressure and low cholesterol, had suffered a stroke, which occurs when the blood supply to the brain is cut off.

And he is one of a growing proportion of middle-aged people affected.

New statistics released by Public Health England (PHE) show 57,000 people had a first stroke in 2016 and while the majority (59%) of strokes occur in the older generation, PHE’s figures also show that over a third (38%) of first time strokes happen in middle-aged adults (between the ages of 40 to 69). More first-time strokes are now occurring at an earlier age compared to a decade ago. The average age for men having a stroke fell from 71 to 68 years and for women, 75 to 73 years between 2007 and 2016.

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On the positive side, deaths related to stroke have declined by 49% in the past 15 years, thanks to a combination of better prevention, earlier treatment and more advanced treatment. But strokes are still the third most common cause of premature death and a leading cause of disability in the UK. And PHE says its data shows that everyone, whatever their age, needs to know more about recognising the signs.

In an effort to raise awareness it has launched an Act FAST campaign to highlight the importance of recognising the signs and getting to hospital quickly. Thankfully, Paul realised immediately what had happened to him that fateful morning.

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“I tried to call for my daughter but my voice was all slurred and I not could form words, then the loud whining ringing sound started in my head and tingling in my hands and arms. At this point I knew I was having stroke,” he says. “Luckily my daughter heard me and called 999.”

Paul, who lives in Haverhill, was taken by ambulance to Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge and given a clot-busting drug and CT scan. His road to recovery has been long and difficult but on March 18, almost three years on from that life-changing stroke, he will take part in the Stroke Association’s Resolution Run in Cambridge.

“Running has always been an escapism for me,” he says. “When I lost the ability to walk, I thought I’d never run again. My stroke left me with considerable balance and coordination issues, and I also suffered with depression and low confidence. I started rehabilitation at a brain injury centre in Stowmarket. The excellent physios there referred me to a scheme at Haverhill Leisure Centre, which slowly helped me regain some of the strength and fitness I had lost.

“With the support from Haverhill Running Club, I completed my first 5k run since my stroke in May 2016. This was something I had once thought would be impossible. I came last, but I was just so happy to make it to the finish line. I never in million year thought I was at risk of stoke. I’ve learnt that strokes in the under 55 group are actually increasing and more people suffer them than ever realised.”

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Act FAST to save a life

The Act FAST campaign urges people to call 999 if they notice even one of the signs of a stroke in themselves or others:

Face – has their face fallen on one side? Can they smile?

Arms – can they raise both their arms and keep them there?

Speech – is their speech slurred?

Tme – to call 999

Juliet Bouverie, Stroke Association chief executive, welcomed the Public Health England campaign. “Stroke is the killer condition that has been ignored for too long,” she said. “The latest figures suggest that stroke is increasingly occurring in younger people. This needs to change. The faster you receive emergency specialist treatment for stroke, the better your chances of making a good recovery. Knowing the signs of stroke and being able to Act FAST could save your life.”

Experts say at least half of strokes could be prevented if people made simple lifestyle changes, such as keeping blood pressure under control, eating healthily and taking regular exercise.

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