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In most Western societies stroke is a devastating disease, being the third most common cause of death, after cancer and heart disease. One in 4 stroke victims dies within a month, and half are left with a disability. Although strokes are more common in older people, age is no barrier. Five per cent of stroke victims are under 45 years of age and 40 per cent are under 65.
A stroke is a life-threatening event in which the brain's oxygen supply is cut off. A stroke can affect the senses, speech, and memory. It may also cause paralysis, coma, or death. The nature of the effects in any individual depend on which part of the brain has its oxygen supply cut off.
- A stroke occurs when an artery to the brain bursts or becomes blocked, cutting off the supply of oxygen to a part of the brain. Brain tissue deprived of oxygen dies within minutes. As a result, the part of the body controlled by those brain cells cannot function properly.
- The risk of a stroke is increased by atherosclerosis and high blood pressure. Bleeding into the brain from an injury can also cause a stroke.
"Minor Strokes"Or Transient Ischaemic Attacks (TIAs)
- These are similar to strokes in that the brain is deprived of oxygen. A TIA is distinguished from a stroke by their duration, which is always less than 24 hours (and sometimes as brief as a few minutes), after which the lost functions are restored. They have a tendency to recur, but unlike a stroke they do not result in dramatic changes in day to day living. However, TIAs can account for progressive mental deterioration and senility in the long term.
Stroke Symptoms - Know The Warning Signs!
If you notice one of these signs, call your doctor immediately.
- Sudden weakness or numbness in your face, arm or leg on one side of your body.
- Sudden dimness, blurring or loss of vision, particularly in one eye.
- Loss of speech, or trouble talking or understanding speech.
- Sudden severe headache - "a bolt out of the blue" - with no apparent cause.
- Unexplained dizziness, unsteadiness or a sudden fall, especially if accompanied by any of the other symptoms.
A stroke is often preceded by transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs), which are marked by reversible stroke symptoms. These must not be ignored because emergency treatment at this stage often prevents a fatal or disabling stroke from occurring.
Prevention of Stroke
- Have regular blood pressure checks.
- If blood pressure is up, take positive steps to reduce it.
- Know the early warning signs of a stroke. Do not dismiss them as trivial.
- Reduce the same risk factors which apply to coronary heart disease.
- Don't smoke.
- You should also pay attention to the same risk factors that apply to coronary heart disease:
- high cholesterol
- As with heart attacks, the risk of a woman having a stroke is 6 times greater if she smokes or takes oral contraceptives. If she does both, the risk is 20 times greater.
- Aspirin (low dose once a day) is a safe and effective way of preventing the recurrence of minor or major stroke in people with existing blood vessel disease, particularly men. Aspirin protects against the formation of blood clots by making platelets less sticky (blood clots are made of platelets). Check with your doctor first to see if aspirin is appropriate for you, because it can cause bad reactions in people with certain conditions or who are taking certain other drugs.
What can be done?
- If you should have a stroke, it is to get medical treatment as early as possible. This is because the degree of recovery from a stroke can be very variable, and is largely dependent on minimising brain damage by prompt treatment, such as dissolving of the clot.
- Damaged nerve and brain tissue do not regenerate, but other parts of the brain may be trained to take over the functions of the damaged area. This is most easily done in the earlier stages, so it is crucial to seek rehabilitation as soon as possible
Extra Info & Resources
- American Heart Association
- Blood Cholesterol Guide
- Salt, Sodium & High Blood Pressure
- How Fats Affect Blood Flow
- Health Benefits of Omega-3 Fats
- Dietary Cholesterol
Last updated: April 2nd, 2010