What is a stroke?
A stroke occurs when the blood supply to a part of the brain is cut off following blockage of an artery (ischaemic stroke) or haemorrhaging (haemorrhagic stroke), causing symptoms which can be distressing and are often life threatening.
Supply of blood to the brain is critical, without it cells can become damaged and die. Therefore it is especially important to seek medical help if you suspect a person has suffered from a stroke.
How to check for a stroke?
Determining whether a stoke has occurred, and which area of the brain has been affected, is helped by performing the FAST check.
The FAST check, an acronym which reinforces the need to act fast, reminds to check four key areas:
- Face – is there a section of the face (usually one side) that is drooping or difficult to move?
- Arm weakness – does the individual have difficulty raising their arms?
- Speech difficulty – can the individual understand and produce speech?
- Time – if any of these symptoms are present, time is critical – call the emergency services
While these checks are indicative, they are not conclusive. If you suspect a stroke, you should always seek medical help straight away.
- sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body
- difficulty finding words
- sudden blurred vision or loss of sight
- sudden confusion, dizziness or unsteadiness
- a sudden, severe headache.
Lifestyle choices to help prevent stroke
Lower blood pressure
Blood pressure is a measurement of the force of blood on the blood vessel walls as it travels through the body. High blood pressure causes the blood vessel walls to thicken and break down. A blood clot or piece of fatty tissue may break off the wall and travel to the brain where it may block an artery causing a stroke.
Individuals with high blood pressure are up to seven times more likely to suffer from a stroke. Staying aware of your blood pressure and taking measures to lower it should therefore be a priority.
Purchase a home blood pressure monitor and stay on top of healthy lifestyle choices (discussed below). These steps will help you to identify and eliminate the factors in your life which may have a detrimental impact on your blood pressure, and subsequent risk of stroke.
As much as we enjoy food, its purpose is, and always has been, to serve as a fuel for the body. If the wrong things go in, the mechanics of our body suffer as a result – just like a petrol car running on diesel.
Eat the right foods, and stay away from crash dieting or an ‘everything in moderation’ approach. Be prepared to change your diet drastically if needed. Give your body what it needs, not what it wants.
Plenty of vitamin rich foods, organic vegetables, complex carbohydrates and natural sugars form the core of a good diet. Avoid processed sugars, simple carbs and junk food. In the long run you will thank yourself.
Reduce alcohol consumption
Our annual calendars have become littered with birthdays, weddings, sporting events and other social activities. These occasions often go hand in hand with alcohol, making the task of avoiding alcohol altogether a difficult one. Reducing consumption however shouldn’t be.
According to an NIAAA study, light drinking drinking (not more than one drink per day) seems to lower the risk of ischemic stroke; however it had no impact on the risk of developing haemorrhagic stroke.
Responsible drinking (at a low to moderate level) is therefore the best strategy to take when consuming alcohol.
You should aim not to exceed the recommended limits:
- men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week
- spread your drinking over three days or more if you drink as much as 14 units a week
For more information, speak to your local GP or consult the NHS choices website on strokes and alcohol.
Smoking significantly increases your risk of having a stroke, with some bodies suggesting the risk is increased by a factor of 4.
Smoking narrows the arteries, heightening the risk of cloths, and damages the respiratory system’s flow of oxygen through the circulatory system.
Unlike alcohol, light smoking will not lower the risk of stroke, so it’s absolutely essential to curtail this bad habit before it’s too late.
For tips on quitting smoking contact the NHS Smoking Helpline, who can offer advice and encouragement to help you quit smoking. Call 0300 123 1044, or visit NHS Smokefree.
Exercise is still the best medicine, and when it comes to stroke prevention it’s no different.
Combining a healthy diet with regular exercise is the best way to maintain a healthy weight. Regular exercise can also help lower your cholesterol, helping to keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.
It is recommended that individuals take part in at least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, such as cycling or fast walking, every week.
For ideas on how to stay healthy in your older age – check out our ‘stay active’ series, starting with swimming
Manage existing conditions
Certain conditions known to increase the risk of stroke should be managed properly to help prevent your chances.
The lifestyle changes mentioned in this blog will help, however medication may be needed if your condition is permanent, hereditary or more serious such as diabetes or atrial fibrillation. In this circumstance medical assistance should always be sought.
For more information on stroke – please consult the Stroke Association website or call their helpline on 0303 3033 100.
For more information on Embrace care homes for the elderly, contact our support centre on 0844 980 3666