National Stroke Week 2018 is Monday 3 to Sunday 9 September. This year, Stroke Foundation is encouraging Australians to discover how easy it is to fit healthy habits into their day and do their part to prevent stroke.

The Stroke Foundation is aiming to ensure every Australian household has someone who can identify and know the signs of stroke. Share the F.A.S.T. signs of stroke with your friends, family and colleagues – the life you save could be your own.

Just by knowing the signs of stroke makes you part of the F.A.S.T. Response Team:

  • Face– Check their face. Has their mouth drooped?
  • Arms– Can they lift both arms?
  • Speech– Is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?
  • Time– Time is critical. If you see any of these symptoms Act FAST and call 000

Time is critical in treating stroke. Paramedics, nurses and doctors can only help if you join the FAST Response Team and dial 000 at the first sign of stroke. Stroke is always a medical emergency.

Rebecca and Fiona – Our Nutritionists, Kirsten Flavell © 2018

This is a topic close to my heart as I have suffered from several small strokes (infarcts) in my early to mid-twenties and I still have permanent brain damage. These happened to me during migraines (yes you can have a stroke caused by a migraine).

I was 25 years old and working in the city, I was a firm believer in the “soldier on” mentality, no time to be sick. I experienced high stress, very severe migraines and had always been prone to dizzy spells and fainting. I had chronic digestive issues, my weight had started to pile on; I was fatigued and beginning to have anxiety and eczema. I was also on the pill which increases risk of clotting and stroke.

While these are not all signs of stroke, they were clear signs that I was not well, and I didn’t listen to my body until I had no choice. One day in 1996 my body decided it was time I had break! This time my migraine was different, much more severe and not letting up. Sorry to be indelicate but this is an important topic so I need to share details. I started vomiting and while it is not unusual to vomit in relation to migraine, usually it would happen once and my migraine would dissipate. This time my migraine persisted and I couldn’t stop vomiting for days, even though I was way too sick to eat. I now know that this is a definite sign of brain injury but didn’t know this at the time.

I had a friend call me on the first day and he said “geez you sound like you’re drunk or on drugs”, I now know that my speech was slurred, please be aware that the person experiencing the stroke doesn’t know they have slurred speech, I thought I was just speaking slow because I had a headache and couldn’t think straight.

After two days I finally had a brain scan. The doctors were shocked as was I when they found several lesions to indicate I had been having these small strokes for a while without knowing. I ultimately lost a quarter of my peripheral vision but I was lucky because when the migraine/stroke began I lost all of my peripheral vision and would have been almost blind (just tunnel vision) but three quarters of that vision returned.

The most valuable lesson I learned from my experience is to tune in and listen to my body. When things are not right, the body often sends us messages. They can be very subtle in the beginning and then progressively get louder and louder. I know this is not everyone’s experience, some people don’t have warning signs but many do, so it is important to pay attention.

Please learn how to listen to your body and learn the F.A.S.T. signs of stroke so you can recognise it when you see it and know it can happen at any age including infants. These small strokes are also a very common cause of dementia.

If you feel that you are “not quite right” or you have symptoms that concern you, see a health professional. If you are not heard or don’t get satisfactory answers, get another opinion. It is not unusual for people to have a “sense” that they are not well but are convinced that they are wrong and they are fine, only later to regret it. Health professionals do their best but they are not infallible, they are human. Don’t dismiss a concern out of hand without a very good explanation. After all, it is your body and your life! If there is still no diagnosis, don’t give up, it’s now your opportunity to work on prevention, which is much better than cure! See someone who specialises in preventative medicine such as a nutritional medicine practitioner for guidance.

Read more about my story here.

Fiona Kane is a Nutritional Medicine Practitioner, Holistic Counsellor, Transformational Life Coach, Professional Speaker, Podcaster and writer on Health and Nutrition and the founder of Informed Health Pty Ltd, holding an Advanced Diploma of Nutritional Medicine, Diploma in Holistic Counselling and Life Care and Certificate in Transformational Life Coaching. Fiona is registered and accredited with Australian Traditional-Medicine Society (ATMS), Australia’s largest professional association of complementary medicine practitioners. Fiona has been in practice for 11 years.