The majority of strokes occur when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood to your brain, cutting off the blood supply to part of the brain itself. When any part of your brain does not receive the essential nutrients and oxygen it requires to function, the brain cells in this area will ultimately become damaged or destroyed.
Knowing about strokes and understanding the symptoms to look out for is crucial as the faster a stroke victim receives medical treatment, the greater chance they have of recovering and avoiding long-term damage or death.
WHAT CAUSES A STROKE?
As we grow older, our arteries become harder and fatty deposits cause them to narrow. Blood clots can form in these narrow areas and cause blockages to the brains blood flow. This is an Ischaemic stroke. Blood clots can form in one of the brains main arteries, or they can form in a blood vessel, which is then carried to the brain. Some Ischaemic strokes are caused when a blockage forms in one of the tiny blood vessels deep inside the brain itself.
Whilst this is the most common type of stroke, a stroke can also happen when a blood vessel bursts; causing damage to a part of the brain. This is known as a Haemorrhagic stroke.
A transient Ischaemic attack, or TIA, is the medical name for a mini stroke. This mini stroke is often referred to as a warning stroke because following a TIA; a person is at high risk of having a full stroke within one week. It is essential to get urgent medical treatment if you suspect you, or someone you know has had a TIA.
REDUCING THE RISK
In the UK, every 3 minutes and 27 seconds, somebody has a stroke. One in ten deaths in the UK are caused by a stroke. The risks increase significantly with age, as two thirds of stroke victims are 65 or over.
Whilst a stroke can happen to anyone, some people have an increased risk of having a stroke. Firstly, there are certain medical conditions that can increase your risk, for example:
- High Cholesterol
- High Blood Pressure
- Depression & Stress
Secondly, your lifestyle choices can also increase the risk. All of the following lifestyle choices can put you at greater risk:
- Smoking – doubles your risk of a stroke because it causes your arteries to fur up and makes your blood more likely to clot.
- Poor Diet – can lead to stroke, diabetes and heart disease.
- Excessive Alcohol Consumption – raises blood pressure increasing the risk of stroke.
- Drug Usage
- Lack Of Regular Exercise – can lead to unhealthy blood fats, high blood pressure and decreases the body’s ability to handle insulin effectively.
Lastly, if any of your family members have suffered a stroke, your own risk of having one is increased as the hereditary risk can pass from one generation to the next.
Whilst you have no control over this genetic risk, by paying attention to your own health and making positive lifestyle choices, you can significantly lower the likelihood of suffering a stroke yourself.
IT IS NEVER TOO LATE TO MAKE CHANGES
Whether you have already suffered a stroke or a TIA, (mini stroke) and want to reduce your chances of having another, or you simply want to reduce the likelihood of ever suffering your first, it is genuinely never too late to implement key changes for prevention.
Some risk factors like your age, a previous stroke, or your family history are impossible to change, but there may be changes you can make to your lifestyle, such as giving up smoking, or becoming more active, that could half your risk of having a stroke in the future.
WHEN TO DIAL 999
Look for the following signs:
- Facial weakness, difficulty smiling or any sign of drooping around the eye or mouth.
- Arm weakness; difficulty raising the arm.
- Speech; slurred speech, difficulty communicating.
With a TIA, you may notice other symptoms in combination with the symptoms above.
Look out for the following symptoms that can appear very suddenly:
- Weakness on one side of the body.
- Blurred vision.
- Dizziness or unsteadiness.
- Confusion or memory loss.
If you notice one of these signs, or any combination of them, even if they are just temporary, you should call 999 immediately and get help. It is easy to mistake the signs for a ‘funny turn’ of some kind, particularly if the symptoms come and go, but this initial stage is critical.
A delay could result in long-term disability or in the worst-case scenario, death. Be prepared and be ready to act decisively. Be safe.