What is a Stroke?
A stroke is a serious medical condition that occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off. This is usually either because of a blockage (caused by a clot) in one of the arteries in the brain or bleeding caused by a burst artery. When this happens, parts of the brain can become damaged. This may lead eventually to permanent brain damage, loss of function in parts of the body (e.g. arms, legs or speech) controlled by the damaged part of the brain or even death.
Stroke is a medical emergency. The sooner a person receives emergency treatment for a stroke, the less damage is likely to happen, so prompt treatment is crucial in all cases.
How do I know when someone has had a Stroke?
If you suspect that you or someone else is having a stroke, call for emergency medical help immediately, especially if you see any of the following signs or symptoms:
- The face may have dropped on one side (including the mouth and eye) and the corner of the mouth may be drooling saliva
- They may not be able to lift their arms and legs due to weakness
- You may not be able to hear them at all because their speech is ‘slurred’ and their mouth feels heavy; or they may not be able to speak at all even though they appear to be wide awake
Other signs of stroke may include:
- complete paralysis (or loss of movement) of one side of the body
- sudden blindness or loss of vision
- dizziness and problems with balance
- difficulty with finding the right words to speak or not being able to understand what others are saying
- swallowing difficulty
- sudden, severe headache which may come with stiffness in the neck
- blacking out or fainting
Transient Ischaemic Attack
A person with the same or similar symptoms (as a stroke) may also have suffered a ‘mini-stroke’ otherwise known as a ‘transient ischaemic attack’ (or TIA). This happens when the supply of blood to the brain is only temporarily interrupted unlike in a full-blown stroke which is permanent.
A person who has suffered a mini-stroke will usually recover within 24 hours, but as there is no way of telling beforehand if this is a ‘stroke’ or ‘mini-stroke’, all symptoms of this kind should be treated with the same degree of seriousness regardless of whether it turns out to be a stroke or mini-stroke. Also, because the causes of both these conditions are essentially the same, a mini-stroke is often a warning sign that a stroke is ‘on the way’.
Who is at risk of having a stroke?
People over 65 years of age are most at risk of having a stroke, although a significant number of strokes occur in people who are under the age of 65, especially in those who already suffer from chronic conditions such as diabetes or hypertension.
The risk of stroke is higher in people of African and South Asian origin. This is also largely because of a natural tendency to develop diabetes and heart disease which are both medical conditions that can cause a stroke.
Smoking, being overweight, lack of exercise and a poor diet are also risk factors for stroke. Other conditions that increase your risk of having a stroke are high blood pressure, high cholesterol and an irregular heartbeat.
Stroke, like heart disease, can usually be prevented through a healthy lifestyle. Eating a healthy diet, taking regular exercise, reducing the amount of alcohol you consume and not smoking will dramatically reduce your risk of having a stroke.
How is Stroke treated?
The way stroke is treated depends very much on the type of stroke you have suffered. Which part of the brain is affected and cause of the stroke are also important factors.
Most of the time, strokes are treated with medicines. This generally includes drugs to prevent and remove blood clots, reduce blood pressure and reduce cholesterol. Lowering high blood pressure and cholesterol levels with medication also lowers the risk of further strokes substantially. In some cases, surgery may be needed to clear accumulated fatty deposits in your arteries as well as to repair damage caused by a burst and bleeding arteries.
People can sometimes take a long time to recover from the damage caused by a stroke. There are times when a long period of exercise and ‘rehabilitation’ is needed to help a person recover from the effects of a stroke as well as re-gain their former independence. It is also a fact that many will never fully recover after suffering the effects of a stroke.
The process of rehabilitation will usually be conducted and supervised by a physiotherapist in conjunction with other healthcare professionals who will work together with your doctor as part of a treatment team. Rehabilitation is crucial to ensuring long-term recovery, functionality and survival after a stroke. Please ensure that you discuss the options available for rehabilitation with your doctor during your course of treatment.
What do I do if my blood pressure is high?
If your blood pressure is found to be high, it will need to be closely monitored until it is brought under control by means of lifestyle changes and sometimes by medication as deemed necessary by your doctor. Contact us to speak to a healthcare advisor about ‘Prevention and Treatment of Hypertension and related conditions’.