Stroke is a pressing health issue in the UK, with about 100,000 incidents each year, and is a leading cause of death, claiming around 38,000 lives annually. It impacts 1.3 million survivors in the UK and leads to around 126,000 hospital admissions in England alone. Notably, the median age of stroke onset has decreased in recent years, with over a third of strokes now occurring in adults between 40 and 69 years. Furthermore, subarachnoid haemorrhage, a specific type of stroke, affects 6-12 people per 100,000 population each year. These figures highlight the critical need for better stroke prevention and treatment in the UK.
In-depth Understanding of Stroke: An Introduction
A stroke event is characterised by an interruption or substantial reduction in the blood supply to a particular segment of your brain. As a direct consequence of this, the brain tissue is deprived of necessary oxygen and nutrients, triggering a chain reaction where brain cells start dying within a matter of minutes. This process can precipitate long-term complications and, in worst-case scenarios, can lead to death.
Broadly, strokes are classified into two main categories: ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes. An ischemic stroke, the more common of the two, is precipitated by blockages in the arteries that deliver blood to the brain. These blockages often result from blood clots or the build-up of fatty deposits and other substances that thicken the inner lining of the arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis.
On the other hand, a hemorrhagic stroke happens when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures or leaks, causing bleeding into the surrounding brain tissue. This bleeding can put pressure on the brain cells and damage them. In many instances, high blood pressure, overuse of anticoagulants or antiplatelet medications, or aneurysms (weak spots in blood vessel walls) are underlying causes of a hemorrhagic stroke.
Additionally, there is a less severe type of stroke known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA), colloquially referred to as a ‘mini-stroke.’ A TIA is characterised by a temporary disruption of blood flow to part of the brain. While not typically causing permanent damage, TIAs should be treated as serious warning signs of a full-blown stroke and medical advice should be sought immediately.
Knowing the early symptoms and understanding the different types of strokes are the first steps toward effective prevention and timely intervention, and this guide aims to provide you with the necessary knowledge to make that possible.
Early Warning Signs of Stroke
The symptoms of a stroke typically appear without warning and can vary greatly among individuals. However, there are common signs that can help in early recognition and prompt treatment.
Sudden Weakness or Numbness
One of the most frequent signs of a stroke is the sudden onset of weakness or numbness in the face, arm, or leg, often on one side of the body. This happens because a stroke usually affects just one part of the brain, and the brain controls different body parts depending on the region. The affected body part can feel heavy, ‘fall asleep,’ or become completely paralysed.
Trouble Speaking or Understanding
A stroke can affect the area of the brain responsible for language, leading to difficulty speaking or understanding speech. A person might struggle to articulate words, speak in a slurred manner, or find it hard to comprehend what others are saying.
Some individuals experience vision problems, such as dimness or loss of vision in one or both eyes. This can occur when a stroke affects the part of the brain that controls visual signals.
Dizziness, Balance, or Coordination Problems
A stroke can also disrupt the areas of the brain that control our balance and coordination, leading to sudden dizziness, unsteadiness, or problems with movement or walking.
Severe Headaches and Fainting
Severe headaches with no known cause, especially if they occur suddenly, can be a sign of a stroke. This can be accompanied by a sudden loss of consciousness, such as fainting, confusion, seizures, or even coma.
Less common symptoms can include sudden nausea or vomiting that isn’t caused by a known illness. It’s crucial to seek immediate medical attention if you or someone else experiences any of these symptoms.
What Causes a Stroke?
There are two main types of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic. An ischemic stroke, the most common type, occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery supplying blood to the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes are less common and occur when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, causing bleeding.
Several risk factors can increase the likelihood of a stroke, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, diabetes, obesity, and heart diseases like atrial fibrillation.
Stroke Prevention through a Healthy Lifestyle
While some risk factors for stroke can’t be controlled, such as age and family history, many can be managed through a healthy lifestyle.
Eating a balanced diet helps control risk factors like obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. Aim for a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and low-fat dairy products, while limiting saturated fats, trans fats, and sodium.
Regular physical activity is essential for maintaining a healthy weight and controlling blood pressure. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity per week, along with muscle-strengthening activities twice a week.
Avoiding Harmful Habits
Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption can significantly increase the risk of stroke. Quitting smoking and limiting alcohol intake can greatly reduce this risk.
Regular Health Checks
Regular health checks can help identify and manage conditions that increase stroke risk. This includes managing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes effectively, often
Recognising and Responding to Stroke: An Essential Guide to Lifesaving Actions
In a world where healthcare is advancing at an unprecedented pace, public awareness and understanding of various health conditions are becoming increasingly important. One such condition is a stroke, a severe medical emergency that requires immediate attention. It is the second leading cause of death worldwide, but its impact can be significantly reduced with prompt recognition of its symptoms and immediate medical intervention.
Managing Your Risk Factors
To prevent strokes, it’s essential to manage your risk factors effectively. This involves keeping your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar levels within a healthy range, as these are all critical factors in heart disease and stroke prevention.
Working With Healthcare Professionals
Building a trustworthy healthcare team is crucial in maintaining your heart and brain health. Regular check-ups can ensure that any potential health issues are caught early and managed effectively.
If you are concerned or have a stroke-related concern contact the Stroke Association here.
The Bournemouth Observer – Your guide to a healthier lifestyle.