The Importance of Stroke Awareness

National Stroke Week 2023, 7-13 August, is a week aimed at raising the awareness of stroke.

Do you know the signs of stroke? Or even what a stroke is? How about what to do if someone you know has a stroke?

We investigate.

To find out, we called on our experts to help shed light on stroke, and importantly help educate our community on this serious health concern.

We find out

  • What a stroke is
  • The causes of a stroke
  • The signs someone may be having a stroke
  • Stroke prevention
  • Treatments and support for stroke sufferers

What is a stroke?

A stroke is a medical condition that occurs when there is a sudden interruption of blood flow to the brain, leading to the brain cells being deprived of oxygen and nutrients.

This lack of blood flow can cause the brain cells to start dying within minutes, which can have serious and potentially life-threatening consequences.

There are two main types of strokes:

  • Ischemic Stroke: This is the most common type of stroke, accounting for around 85% of all cases. It happens when a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain is blocked, typically by a blood clot or a buildup of fatty deposits (atherosclerosis) in the blood vessels.
  • Hemorrhagic Stroke: This type of stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures, leading to bleeding within or around the brain. The bleeding puts pressure on the brain tissue and can cause damage.

As evident, strokes are pretty serious and scary things.

The causes of a stroke

Stroke can be caused by various factors.

Lifestyle factors play a large part in causing stroke

Unhealthy diets
A diet high in sodium (salt) and foods high in saturated fats, trans fats and cholesterol typically raise your blood cholesterol levels causing blood clots, which leads to stroke.

Some foods to limit or avoid include

  • Lunch meat and processed meats (sadly including bacon)
  • Soft drinks, especially diet soft drinks
  • Red meat (In the publication Stroke, a study found that women who consumed large servings of red meat regularly had a 42% higher incidence of stroke)
  • Factory processed soups, beans and sauces
  • Frozen meals, excluding frozen vegetables

Sedentary lifestyles
A no or low-exercise routine with a lot of time on the couch, sitting in a car and behind a desk can lead to increased risk of stroke.

If your lifestyle has turned to a more sedentary one, make an effort to get out and about, add exercise into your weekends or try team sports and the gym.

Excessive alcohol consumption
According to Alcohol Think Again, To reduce the risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury, healthy men and women should drink no more than 10 standard drinks a week and no more than 4 standard drinks on any day.

One of the key ways alcohol can lead to stroke is by raising blood pressure. Heavy drinking over time can elevate blood pressure levels, a significant risk factor for both ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes.

Alcohol also promotes the formation of blood clots, which can block arteries in the brain and trigger an ischemic stroke.

It’s simple: don’t smoke, save your health and your wallet.

Smoking is a major risk factor for stroke, primarily due to its detrimental effects on the cardiovascular system.

The chemicals and toxins present in tobacco smoke can damage blood vessels, promote inflammation, and contribute to a range of issues that cause stroke.

Smoking accelerates the formation of atherosclerotic plaques, which can lead to the narrowing and eventual blockage of blood vessels.

In the context of stroke, atherosclerosis can cause an ischemic stroke by blocking blood flow to parts of the brain.

Blood Clot Formation
Smoking can disrupt the balance of clotting factors in the blood, making it more prone to clot formation.

Blood Pressure Elevation
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for both ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes.

Promotion of Inflammation
Smoking triggers chronic inflammation within the body, including the blood vessels.

Inflammation can weaken blood vessel walls and contribute to the development of aneurysms, which are bulges in blood vessels that can rupture and cause a hemorrhagic stroke.

Impact on HDL Cholesterol
Smoking can lower the levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol, often referred to as “good” cholesterol.

HDL cholesterol helps remove excess cholesterol from the blood vessels, and reduced levels can lead to cholesterol buildup and plaque formation.

Impaired Oxygen Delivery
Smoking reduces the amount of oxygen that can be carried by the blood, which can result in reduced oxygen supply to brain cells.

This oxygen deprivation can damage brain tissue and increase the risk of stroke.

Other causes of stroke
Underlying health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease contribute significantly.

Genetics also play a role, as some individuals may inherit a predisposition to vascular problems.

The signs someone may be having a stroke

Recognising the signs of a stroke is crucial for prompt medical intervention, as quick or immediate treatment can significantly improve outcomes.

Common signs of a stroke include

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body. This can be accompanied by a sudden confusion, difficulty speaking, or trouble understanding speech.
  • Disturbances in vision, such as sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes, might occur. A person experiencing a stroke could also have trouble with balance, coordination, and walking, appearing dizzy or unsteady.
  • Severe and abrupt headaches, often described as the worst headache of someone’s life, can also signal a stroke.

It’s essential to remember the acronym FAST:

Face drooping, Arm weakness, Speech difficulties, and Time to call emergency services.

If you observe any of these signs, even if they appear transient, seeking immediate medical attention is crucial to minimise the potential damage caused by a stroke.

Stroke prevention

Stroke prevention is aimed at reducing the risk of this potentially devastating medical event.

A healthy lifestyle with a healthy diet low in saturated and trans fats, sodium, and processed sugars, and rich in fruits, vegetables is a must.

Engaging in regular physical activity, such as walking, swimming, or cycling, helps maintain cardiovascular health and manage weight.

Avoiding smoking and limiting alcohol consumption can significantly lower stroke risk, as both these habits contribute to blood vessel damage and hypertension.

Managing underlying health conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and atrial fibrillation through regular check-ups and prescribed medications is vital.

Staying mentally and emotionally well, managing stress, and ensuring adequate sleep are equally important for stroke prevention.

Treatments and support for stroke sufferers

There is a large range of treatments and support for stroke sufferers encompassing medical interventions and rehabilitative strategies, all geared towards enhancing recovery and bringing back a quality of life.

Rapid medical attention
This can involve clot-busting medication to dissolve clots causing ischemic strokes.

For severe cases, endovascular procedures might be used to physically remove clots.

A multidisciplinary approach that involves physical, occupational, and speech therapies tailored to individual needs is often used.

These therapies help in regaining motor skills, relearning daily activities, and addressing communication difficulties.

Emotional and psychological support is crucial, as post-stroke depression and anxiety are not uncommon. Social support networks, counselling, and support groups play pivotal roles in emotional well-being.

Lifestyle changes, including medication adherence for managing risk factors like hypertension and diabetes, are integral to preventing future strokes.

Stroke facts

  • One in four people globally will have a stroke in their lifetime.
  • Over 80% of strokes are preventable.
  • Strokes attack up to 1.9 million brain cells per minute.

GBD 2016 Lifetime Risk of Stroke Collaborators
Deloitte Access Economics. 2020. No postcode untouched, Stroke in Australia 2020

Stroke in summary

Similarly to many other medical conditions, prevention can be the best form of defence.

This means the old classic that we all know.

A healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and check-ups. Making even small changes to your diet and routine can have a big difference.

If you’re concerned about your health, or haven’t had a check-up in a while, get in touch.

Duff Street Medical Clinic is here to support the community.