What is stroke?
It occurs if the
- blood supply to the brain is blocked (ischemic stroke), or if a
- blood vessel in the brain is ruptured (hemorrhagic stroke).
When either of these things happens, brain cells begin to die or are at risk of damage.
If you or your loved ones have experienced stroke you will know that its consequences can be significant and life-shattering.
Stroke can affect anyone at anytime
- Every year around 15 million people suffer a stroke worldwide.
- Stroke attacks around 1 in every 400 people.
- Although stroke can affect anyone at any time, two-thirds of all strokes occur in people aged over 65 years.
Stroke is a serious illness
- Stroke can rob people of their identity and independence.
- Stroke is the leading cause of adult disability in industrialized countries.
- Stroke is a medical emergency and must be treated as such.
- The sooner stroke victims receive treatment, the better their chance of recovery. If the stroke is suspected, call the medical emergency services URGENTLY!
Living with stroke
Some stroke survivors may experience a disability following stroke. The level of seriousness and permanence of this disability will depend on which part of the brain has been injured and how severely it has been affected.
Common stroke disabilities
- Problems relating to paralysis or movement
- Problems with speech or understanding language
- Thinking and memory difficulties
- Sensory disturbances eg visual problems
- Emotional problems
- Rehabilitation support, which may vary between countries, may be available to help a patient adjust to life after stroke.
Stroke affects people in different ways. Generally, the goal of rehabilitation is to help stroke patients gain back as much independence as possible. Different countries may have different approaches to rehabilitation, which may involve some of the activities listed below.
Rehabilitation may involve the following examples
- Strengthening limbs that have been paralysed or seriously weakened by stroke – Motion exercises
- Relearning skills that have been lost – Reading Language skills
- Learning new skills to overcome any difficulties caused by stroke – Dressing with one hand,
coping with the frustration of having mental difficulties
- Adapting to equipment that might be used to manage any permanent disabilities – Walking using a walking frame, using an adapter to operate the taps on the sink and bath
Patients should not despair if:
- their recovery rate is slower than they would have hoped, and if
- they are unable to regain their previous abilities.
What are the Symptoms of Stroke?
The symptoms of stroke depend on the type of stroke and what arteries or parts of the brain are affected. The following are the most common symptoms of stroke:
- Severe headache with no obvious cause (commonly first sign of hemorrhagic stroke and often occurs with ischemic stroke as well)
- Sudden weakness, abnormal sensations, or paralysis to one or more limbs, or one side of the body
- Sudden dimness, reduced vision, double vision, or blindness, often in only one eye
- Loss of balance and coordination, which can often lead to falls
- Trouble speaking or understanding speech
- Sudden confusion
- Abnormal breathing (often a sign of herniation)
- Stupor, loss of consciousness, or coma
- Inability to control emotions; depression
- Nausea and vomiting (hemorrhagic stroke)
- Very high blood pressure (hemorrhagic stroke)
You can treat some conditions that make you more likely to have a stroke. Other things that put you at risk can’t be changed:
High blood pressure – Your doctor may call it hypertension. It’s the biggest cause of strokes. If your blood pressure is typically 140/90 or higher, your doctor will discuss treatments with you.
Tobacco – Smoking or chewing it raises your odds of a stroke. Nicotine makes your blood pressure go up. Cigarette smoke causes a fatty build-up in your main neck artery. It also thickens your blood and makes it more likely to clot. Even second-hand smoke can affect you.
Heart disease – This condition includes defective heart valves as well as atrial fibrillation, or irregular heartbeat, which causes a quarter of all strokes among the very elderly. You can also have clogged arteries from fatty deposits.
Diabetes – People who have it often have high blood pressure and are more likely to be overweight. Both raise the chance of a stroke. Diabetes damages your blood vessels, which makes a stroke more likely. If you have a stroke when your blood sugar levels are high, the injury to your brain is greater.
Weight and exercise – Your chances of a stroke may go up if you’re overweight. You can lower your odds by working out every day. Take a brisk 30-minute walk or do muscle-strengthening exercises like push-ups and working with weights.
Medications – Some medicines can raise your chances of stroke. For instance, blood-thinning drugs, which doctors suggest to prevent blood clots, can sometimes make a stroke more likely through bleeding. Studies have linked hormone therapy, used for menopause symptoms like hot flashes, with a higher risk of strokes. And low-dose estrogen in birth control pills may also make your odds go up.
Age – Anyone could have a stroke, even babies in the womb. Generally, your chances go up as you get older. They double every decade after age 55.
Family – Strokes can run in families. You and your relatives may share a tendency to get high blood pressure or diabetes. Some strokes can be brought on by a genetic disorder that blocks blood flow to the brain.
Gender – Women are slightly less likely to have a stroke than men of the same age. But women have strokes at a later age, which make them less likely to recover and more likely to die as a result.