What is a Stroke?
A stroke, also known as a brain attack, is the unexpected interruption of blood flow in an artery leading to the brain. This prevents brain tissue from receiving oxygen and nutrients, which can cause brain cell death within minutes.
Stroke symptoms are very well-documented and easily recognisable:
● Numbness or paralysis on one side of the body, usually in the face, arm or leg areas. You might be having a stroke if you try to raise both your arms above your head, but are unable to do so or if one arm begins to fall/lose strength. You might also not be able to smile properly on one side of the mouth
● Experiencing trouble speaking or understanding others, where you might begin slurring your words or have issues understanding what others are saying.
● Feel intense pain in the form of a headache, that could even be accompanied with vomiting or dizziness.
● Have vision issues, wherein you start to see double or have blurred/blackened vision.
● Trouble with motor functions, where you experience issues walking or lose your balance and coordination.
What to do when someone has a Stroke?
The first thing to remember is always to remain calm while helping someone having a stroke. In fact, this is important for all medical emergencies. You cannot help someone if you’re panicking yourself. It would only panic the person too.
Secondly, you would want to call an ambulance as soon as possible rather than transport them yourself. Medical personnel can arrive quicker and they are better equipped to assist the patient on the way too. Make sure to also use the word “stroke” so the paramedics know how to approach the situation.
Thirdly, keep track of the symptoms you can see the person experiencing. This is important to monitor development of the emergency and to communicate to medical staff at the hospital, so they have a better understanding of how to treat the patient. You also want to keep talking to the patient to get a better idea of their background, such as existing medications or medical history, known allergies and other important information, all of which can be told to medical staff.
Lastly, try to put them into a lying down position on their side with the head elevated. This position encourages blood flow to the brain. However, if they’ve fallen over, do not move them.
What causes a Stroke?
There are 2 main causes of strokes: a blockage in an artery or the leaking/bursting of a blood vessel within the brain. An ischemic stroke is caused by the former, and a hemorrhagic stroke is caused by the latter.
Majority of strokes are actually ischemic strokes. During the event of an ischemic stroke, the artery bringing blood to the brain becomes narrower because of cholesterol buildup, which in turn causes blood cells to clot. The clots block the artery, resulting in an ischemic stroke.
A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel either within or just outside of the brain leaks or ruptures (bursts). The blood collects and begins to put immense amounts of pressure onto the brain, which can cause a number of symptoms such as weakness and pain.
There is a third type of stroke known as a transient ischemic stroke, or “mini-stroke”, which is the same as an ischemic stroke, only that the effects and symptoms last for a considerably shorter period of time, around less than an hour. Although a TIS is not as serious or lasting compared to the aforementioned 2 types of stroke, it is still a major warning sign that a future major stroke could happen. It should be treated and taken just as seriously. More than a third of people who have a TIS go on to have a major stroke within a year.
Stroke Risk Factors
The most important thing to know about what causes a stroke is lifestyle habits and pre-existing medical conditions.
Leading an unhealthy lifestyle can contribute the most to an increased chance of experiencing a stroke. Things like smoking, obesity, physical inactivity and high consumption of saturated fats/high cholesterol foods all play a part in leading up to higher stroke chances.
In addition, medical factors such as a previous stroke or TIS can boost chances of stroke. Other concerns can be High Blood Presure, Diabetes or Heart Disease, all of which considerably increases the risk of stroke.
Prevention of Stroke
Although there are specific factors that cannot be changed such as age and gender, there are other risk factors that can and should be taken note of to minimise stroke risk.
The best way to tackle stroke and prevent it from affecting your life is to shift your lifestyle habits toward more healthier options. For example, if you’re a smoker, it would be best to attempt to quit and break the habit before it becomes too big of an issue and contributes greatly to stroke risk.
Other things you could do include getting more physically active and partake in more regular exercise. Doing so can help you lose weight which can help lower the chances of a stroke happening.
If your diet is full of sodium and cholesterol-rich foods like bacon, cold cut hams, sausages, deep fried foods and fast foods, then you are a significantly higher risk of suffering a stroke. You should try to cut down on those kinds of foods and instead opt for more potassium-heavy produce such as bananas, oranges, cooked spinach and cooked broccoli.