Thousands of people are putting themselves at risk of a stroke by dismissing their passing symptoms as ‘just a funny turn’, and are unaware that they are having a mini-stroke, according to a new report launched by the Stroke Association. If mini-strokes (also known as a TIA or transient ischaemic attack) are treated in time, around 10,000 strokes could be prevented annually and the NHS and care services could save more than £200m(i).
The charity’s latest report, Not just a funny turn, is based on a UK-wide survey(ii) of people who had a mini-stroke in the past five years. Findings from the report, which is supported by Legal & General, show:
- Over a third of people (37%) having a mini-stroke thought it was a ‘funny turn’
- Only one in five people (22%) experiencing symptoms of a mini-stroke rang 999
- Almost half of people (47%) said the symptoms didn’t feel like an emergency
- A fifth of people (20%) went on to have a major stroke.
Every year, around 46,000 people in the UK have a mini-stroke for the first time. The symptoms are the same as stroke but last for a short time and people appear to return to normal.
Jon Barrick, Chief Executive of the Stroke Association, explained: “The greatest risk of having a major stroke is within the first few days after a mini-stroke. However, for many people it doesn’t feel like an emergency because the symptoms are brief or mild. Too many mini-stroke patients delay calling 999 when their symptoms start and instead choose to book a GP appointment or visit their optician for advice because of their visual symptoms.”
The survey also revealed:
- A quarter of people (25%) said that healthcare professionals had not recognised the symptoms as that of a mini-stroke
- Nearly a quarter of people (23%) were given no information or advice about changes they needed to make to their lifestyle to prevent a stroke.
- Although there may appear to be no after effects of mini-stroke, more than two out of five (45%) reported that their mini-stroke had affected them physically, resulting in problems with their communication, memory or vision.
Jon Barrick, Chief Executive of the Stroke Association, said: “There’s nothing small about mini-stroke. It’s a medical emergency. When the symptoms start, you should call 999 and say you may be having a stroke. Urgently investigating and treating people who have a TIA or minor stroke could reduce their risk of having another stroke by 80%(iii). Even though the symptoms may disappear, there might be damage to the brain, so you need to see a specialist.”
Professor Tony Rudd, Chair of the Intercollegiate Stroke Working Party said: “It is vital that the public are more aware of the importance of recognising the symptoms of TIA and getting urgent attention. Although the symptoms are often very mild and brief they are important indicators that there may be a stroke on its way unless the right things are done to avert it. Services for TIA have improved radically over recent years and most hospitals are now running daily clinics. We just need to make sure that patients respond quickly and then the frontline professionals make the appropriate referral. The Stroke Association campaign is timely and important and I fully support its aims.”
Professor Caroline Watkins, Professor of Stroke and Older People’s Care at the University of Central Lancashire, said: “The risk of stroke in the first few days following a mini-stroke is high, that’s why it is often referred to as a ‘warning stroke.’ It requires urgent investigation and treatment. It is clear that the public need to be more aware of mini-stroke, but equally, health professionals need to be able to identify the warning signs. Better awareness of mini-stroke symptoms can help ensure that people get the right treatment fast.”
The Stroke Association is calling for;
- Better awareness amongst the public of the passing symptoms of mini-stroke in order to prevent a stroke
- Professionals in health and social care, including GP receptionists, hospital registrars and health visitors, to recognise the signs of mini-stroke and the importance of rapid referral to specialist assessment and treatment
- Improved support, information and advice for patients to make necessary lifestyle changes to reduce their risk of further mini-strokes and strokes
- Provision of appropriate support for people to make their best possible recovery.
Graham Precey, Head of Corporate & Social Responsibility for Legal & General Group, said: “We hope that through our funding and support for Action on Stroke Month and the Stroke Association’s Not just a funny turn campaign, we will gain a better insight into the ways a mini-stroke can change people’s lives. Working together our aim is to improve awareness and understanding of both mini-strokes and full stokes and the preventative measure that we should take. The short and long-term impact that a mini-stroke may have is still not fully understood.”
The symptoms of a stroke or mini-stroke usually come on suddenly. Other symptoms, sometimes associated with TIA, can include weakness or numbness on one side of the body, loss of vision or blurred vision in one or both eyes, memory loss, confusion or a sudden fall. More information about TIAs can be found at www.stroke.org.uk/factsheet/transient-ischaemic-attack.
The launch of the Not just a funny turn campaign and report marks the start of Action on Stroke Month 2014, which is supported by Legal & General. To find out more, please visit www.stroke.org.uk/strokemonth
(i) Rothwell PM et al (2007) `Effect of urgent treatment of transient ischaemic attack and minor stroke on early recurrent stroke (EXPRESS study): a prospective population-based sequential comparison’. The Lancet, 370 (9596):1432-1442.
(ii) TIA Survey conducted by The Stroke Association. 670 stroke survivors and carers completed the survey Oct – Dec 2013. Interviews also took place with 18 respondents and two NHS professionals.
(iii) Rothwell PM et al (2007) `Effect of urgent treatment of transient ischaemic attack and minor stroke on early recurrent stroke (EXPRESS study): a prospective population-based sequential comparison’. The Lancet, 370 (9596):1432-1442.
(iv) The FAST test can help identify the signs of a mini-stroke:
FACIAL weakness: Can the person smile? Has their mouth or eye drooped?
ARM weakness: Can the person raise both arms?
SPEECH problems: Can they speak clearly and understand what you say?
TIME to call 999