Do you know the warning signs of a stroke?
A stroke can be a life-shattering event that can rob you of the ability to talk or move and erase your memory. But mini- strokes have symptoms so brief or subtle they can pass unnoticed. This is why it’s important to know the warning signs of a stroke.
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 is dissolved 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.
As you age, your chances of a mini-stroke increase. Up to 40% of mini-stroke sufferers will go on to have a major stroke. Acting on symptoms could prevent you or your loved one having a major stroke.
Could you be at risk?
Risk factors you can’t do anything about:
Genetics – having a close family member who has had a TIA or stroke.
Ethnic background – being South Asian or black African.
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:
Blood pressure – this is the biggest risk factor and high blood pressure causes about 50 percent of ischaemic strokes (caused by a blood clot) and also increases the risk of haemorrhagic stroke (caused by a bleed).
Cholesterol – high cholesterol is linked to both greater risk of strokes and heart attack.
Lack of physical activity.
Atrial fibrillation – a type of irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia).
Recognise the signs
If you or someone you are with experiences any of these classic signs of a stroke, even if only briefly, go to the nearest emergency room or call an ambulance:
- 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.
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 an 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 130/85 (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 saltwatch.co.za
- High cholesterol can increase your risk of a stroke. Your lipid levels (mmol/l) should be:
Total cholesterol < 5.0
LDL cholesterol < 3.0
HDL cholesterol (women) > 1.2
HDL cholesterol (men) > 1.0
Triglycerides < 1.7
- Regular moderate to vigorous exercise reduces the risk of silent stroke by 40%. Just 30 minutes of brisk walking most days should do the trick.
- Smoking makes blood more likely to clot and doubles your risk of stroke or heart attack. Visit www.ekickbutt.co.za for help on how to quit.
- Keep an eye on the scales. Overweight women are at a far higher risk of ischaemic stroke. Aim for a body mass index (BMI) between 19 and 25.
- Be fat aware. A 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 trans fats (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.
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