What is a stroke?
You may think a of a stroke as a life-shattering event that can rob you of speech, movement and memory. But some known as silent strokes have symptoms so brief or subtle that they pass unnoticed.
All strokes happen when blood supply to the brain is interrupted, most often by a blood clot but sometimes by a bleed, depriving its cells of oxygen and nutrients. In a classic stroke the blood clot is the area of the brain controlling movement and speech and stays in place for longer than 24 hours, causing brain cells to die. This can result in permanent disability. In a mini-stroke known medically as transient ischaemic attack (TIA) the clot is dissolves and symptoms vanish, often within minutes. ‘there can be permanent damage but the brain is mostly able to compensate by using other ‘pathways’,’ says Professor Rothwell.
46,000 is the number of people who have a mini-stroke for the first time each year, massively increasing risk of a major stroke. Acting on symptoms could prevent around 10,000 strokes each year.
Could you be at risk?Risk factors you can’t do anything about:
Your genes – having a close family member who has had a TIA or stroke
Your ethnic background – being South Asian, Black African or Black Caribbean
Your gender – although stroke affects men and women equally, research shows that women between 45 and 54 are more at risk of stroke than men of the same age, although it’s not known why.
Risk factors you can do something about:
Your blood pressure – this is the biggest risk factor and high blood pressure lies behind six to eight out of ten strokes
Your cholesterol – high cholesterol is linked to both grater risk of strokes and hear attack
Lack of physical activity
Atrial fibrillation – a type of irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
Recognise the signs
Act FAST is the acronym to remember. If you or someone you are with experiences any of these classic signs of stroke, even if only briefly, go to A&E or call 999:
Facial weakness – Inability smile or drooping eye or mouth
Arm weakness – Can you raise both arms?
Speech problems – Inability to speak clearly and/or understand what is being said
Time to act – Call 999 or go to A&E
Other suspect symptoms may include:
Numbness, weakness or altered sensation on one side of the body Sudden confusion Dizziness or unsteadiness or loss of coordination Problems carrying out routine task at home or work.
Visual disturbances – partial or complete loss of sight in a n eye.
Reduce your risk
The following steps can reduce your risk of both stroke and heart disease:
– Aim for a blood pressure of less than 140/90 (lower if you have diabetes).
– Keep your salt intake to less than 6g a day (that’s about a teaspoon) by eating as many fresh foods as possible. For more ways to cut salt visit actiononsalt.org.uk
– High cholesterol can increase your risk of a stroke. Your total cholesterol should be 5mmol/l and ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol 3mmol/l. If you have diabetes or have been diagnosed with a heart problem, total cholesterol should be 4mmol/l or below and LDL cholesterol 2mmol/l or below.
– Regular moderate to vigorous exercise reduces the risk of silent stroke by 40 per cent.Thirty minutes of brisk walking most days should do the trick.
– Smoking makes blood more likely to clot and doubles you risk of stroke or heart attack. Visit nhs.uk/smokefree for help on how to quit.
– Keep an eye on the scales. Overweight women are at a far higher risk of ischaemic stroke (caused by a blood clot). Aim for a body mass index (BMI) between 19 and 25.
– Be fat aware: A recent study of post menopausal women found those with higher blood levels of healthy fats (found in fish, nuts and seeds) and lower blood levels of the saturated fat and transfats (found in red meat, butter, cheese and processed foods) had a lower risk of stroke.
– Eat more fruit and veg: Every extra 200g of fruit and veg a day reduces the risk of ischaemic stroke. Try eating 7 a day.