Stroke is the third most common cause of death in the UK. We all need to be aware of the signs and what to do if someone is having a stroke. However, we should also be taking steps to protect ourselves by reducing the risk of strokes. Up to 90% of strokes could have been prevented so we need to know how to avoid it.
Why is Timely Action So Important for Strokes?
A stroke happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is blocked. The area of the brain that is affected will be starved of oxygen, which can cause symptoms such as confusion, speech problems, and weakness on one side of the body. If the blockage isn’t cleared then the oxygen-starved cells can start to die off, which could lead to permanent damage or even death.
Strokes can happen suddenly and the damage can be severe if treatment isn’t provided promptly. This is why it is so important to be aware of the signs of stroke and to call an ambulance immediately if you spot them in yourself or another person. Timely action can save a life or prevent a permanent disability.
Sometimes the symptoms of a stroke will go away by themselves. This is known as a mini-stroke and it happens when the blockage in the blood vessel is temporary. Timely action is still essential as one mini-stroke will often be followed by another. It could also be followed by a major stroke.
Acting quickly is vital when someone is having a stroke or mini-stroke. It is important to know if you are at risk and how to recognise the signs so that you can take timely action to get help. However, prevention is always better than cure so it is also a good idea to learn how to avoid it. Many of the risk factors for stroke are within our control, so we can change then to prevent problems.
Who is at Risk of Stroke?
Anyone can have a stroke but there are some factors that can make you more likely to be affected:
- Being over 55
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Atrial fibrillation (a type of heart arrhythmia)
- Family history of stroke
- South Asian, African or Caribbean ethnicity
- Being overweight
- Drinking alcohol
Some of these factors such as age are outside our control but there are others that we can change to reduce the risk.
How to Avoid a Stroke?
It is impossible to eliminate the risk of strokes completely, especially if you are at higher risk due to your age or family history. However, there are some things you can do to reduce the chances that you will be affected.
A healthy lifestyle can help you to avoid strokes and other health problems. The best thing you can do to prevent a stroke is to avoid smoking. It is also best to limit your alcohol intake. Eating a balanced diet and getting regular exercise can help too, especially as it can help you to maintain a healthy weight and to reduce your cholesterol level and blood pressure.
It is also important to get any medical issues that could increase your risk of stroke under control. You might already be aware of these health issues, but sometimes the symptoms of problems such as high cholesterol or blood pressure can remain hidden until they trigger something serious such as a stroke.
The best way to find out if you are at risk is to see a doctor for health screening. The check-up will include blood pressure measurements and a blood test to check your cholesterol levels. If you are at higher risk of stroke or you’ve had a mini-stroke before then the doctor may also recommend a carotid Doppler scan to check for potential blockages in the blood vessels that supply your brain.
If the check-up reveals any issues that could put you at risk of stroke then the doctor will recommend treatment options to reduce the chances. For example, you might need to take medication to reduce your blood pressure or to prevent blood clots from forming. Getting the right treatment can help you to avoid a stroke and other health issues that could be caused by these underlying conditions.