What is a stroke? You may think 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 in 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 dissolves and symptoms vanish, often within minutes. There can be permanent damage but the brain is mostly able to compensate by using other ‘pathways’.
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 its 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 stokes.
- Being overweight.
- Binge drinking.
- 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 000.
- Facial weakness – Inability to 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 000 or go to A&E at your nearest hospital.
Reduce your risk
The following steps can reduce you 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 6gms per day (about a teaspoon) by eating as many fresh foods as possible and limiting processed foods.
- Regular moderate to vigorous exercise reduces the risk of silent stroke by 40 per cent. Thirty minutes of brisk walking daily should do the trick.
- 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 BMI of between 19 and 25.
- Eat more fruit and veg. Load up on vegetables and limit fruit to 2 pieces per day.