A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off.
It can be caused by a blockage in one of the blood vessels leading to the brain (ischaemic stroke, which accounts for 85% of strokes) or by a bleed in the brain (haemorrhagic stroke).
When blood fails to reach the brain, cells are deprived of oxygen and nutrients, so begin to die.
‘Once a brain cell dies it’s not going to come back – and it could have controlled any part of your behaviour,’ explains Dominic Brand, marketing and external director at the Stroke Association.
For some, the effects of a stroke may be relatively minor and last for only a short period.
Others can be left with more serious, long-term problems.
Strokes are the leading cause of disability in the UK. It’s estimated each year in the UK at least 100,000 people suffer a stroke.
Of those, 38,000 die, one in eight of them within 30 days.
‘There is a misconception that it only happens to old people, whereas 25% of strokes happen to people of working age and more than 400 strokes a year happen in children,’ Dominic adds.
Spotting a stroke
Use the FAST test to spot the three most common symptoms of stroke:
– F is for face: Can the person smile? Has their face fallen on one side?
– A is for arms: Can they raise both arms and hold them there?
– S is for speech: Can they speak clearly and understand you? Is their speech slurred?
– T is for time: If you spot any of the three symptoms, call 999. It is a medical emergency.
■ However, other signs of a stroke can include sudden weakness down one side, difficulty speaking in clear sentences and dizziness or a sudden fall.
According to the charity Stroke Association, 90% of strokes are preventable.
Follow these eight steps to reduce your risk…
● Under Pressure
High blood pressure contributes to up to half of all strokes, says the Stroke Association.
A third of all strokes and heart attacks could be prevented if more people were given drugs to control blood pressure and advice on lifestyle changes, according to a study published in medical journal The Lancet.
● Feel the beat
People with the irregular heartbeat known as atrial fibrillation (AF) – about 1.2 million in the UK – are five times more likely to suffer a stroke.
Because the heart isn’t pumping as it should, there is a risk of clots forming and travelling to the brain.
Symptoms can include palpitations, breathlessness and chest pain.
Treatment includes medications to normalise the heart rate, and to reduce the chances of clots forming.
Regular moderate exercise can reduce your risk of a stroke by 27%, says the Stroke Association.
Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five or more times a week.
● Unhappy hour
Having more than five alcoholic drinks in one sitting can increase your risk of stroke by 1.6 according to the Stroke Association.
Guidelines advise no more than 14 units over a week.
● Check blood-sugar levels
Excessive amounts of sugar in the blood can damage vessels and nerves, and diabetes almost doubles your risk of a stroke.
● Eat your greens
People who eat at least five portions of fruit and vegetables a day reduce their stroke risk by more than a quarter, compared with those who consume less than three servings, say health experts.
● Avoid hard fats
Cholesterol is a vital substance in our bodies, but too much can clog and narrow blood vessels, leading to
a clot forming.
● Watch your weight
Being overweight makes people 20% more likely to have a stroke.
Being obese puts your chances of a stroke up by 64%.
Giant steps have also been made in terms of recovery and rehabilitation, with ongoing improvements made months – or even years – down the line.
‘You can rehabilitate yourself to a large extent depending on the severity of the stroke, and there are people like us to help you with that,’ says Dominic from the Stroke Association.