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A stroke happens when the blood supply to the brain is cut off or reduced.

This can be caused by a blocked artery, or the bursting or leaking of a blood vessel. Sometimes this is referred to as a brain attack.

Someone will suffer a stroke in the UK every three and a half minutes; they can happen very quickly, without warning and can affect children as well as older people. Some 1.2 million survivors of stroke are living in the UK.

Studies have shown that there is a strong association between traumatic brain injury (TBI) and the later development of ischemic stroke. TBI can include events such as head injuries caused by being involved in a car crash, falling from a roof top or being injured in an accident at work.

Mistakes by medical staff can sometimes result in a person suffering a stroke.

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Whatever the reason for a stroke, if a person survives a brain attack, they are often left with long-term disabilities which can affect every aspect of their lives.

The sheer number of people who suffer a stroke each year, more than 150,000, is creating a heavy burden on the health service, and on those who care for stroke survivors.

Typical disabilities that result from a stroke can include paralysis on one side of the body and loss of muscle control; difficulty in talking and swallowing; memory loss; pain and emotional problems and changes in behaviour.

Many people go on to lead relatively normal lives after suffering a stroke, but many will be seriously disabled.

Stroke treatment

The intensely complex workings of the brain have fascinated researchers for centuries. One area of study, neuroplasticity, may have important messages for stroke survivors.

Neuroplasticity, or brain plasticity, refers to changes in neural pathways in the brain because of behavioural change, environmental change, neural processes, emotions, thinking as changes because of injury.

Professor Andrew Lees, one of Britain’s leading Parkinson’s specialists, believes that there is a greater understanding of the way in which the brain can respond to injury. The National Hospital in Queen Square, London, is currently running an experimental programme working with survivors of stroke. Neuro-rehabilitation has moved on in recent years and brain plasticity is now a key consideration in post-stroke physiotherapy.

The use of robotics is also being introduced for some stroke survivors who are helped to train the muscles in the hand and arm to respond to the brain through repeated, self-directed actions which are supported by an exoskeleton.

Such rehabilitation can, in some cases, restore pathways in the brain and increase the range and control of movement. This process of carrying out a series of repetitive exercises is very intensive and rehabilitation doctors are careful to manage the expectations of stroke survivors despite the revolution in stroke treatment that has occurred in the last 20 years.

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Stroke case studies

Missed heart infection

Medical negligence partner Olive Lewin secured over £1.5m for a woman who suffered a stroke when medical staff failed to realise she was suffering from a heart infection, despite her visiting her GP and A&E department nine times in two months.

5 month infection

Medical negligence partner Suzanne White recovered a significant amount of compensation for a young man who suffered a stroke and serious brain damage after an infection was left undiagnosed by a hospital for five months.

Perinatal stroke

The birth injury team also deals with cases of perinatal stroke which happen because of hospital negligence and which is a leading cause of cerebral palsy.