Reduce your risk of stroke

Up to 80% of strokes may be preventable – in recognition of this, the focus of September’s 3-9th Stroke Awareness Week is promoting education and increasing awareness

With a stroke occurring every 10 minutes around Australia, by the time you finish reading this, another person will probably be suffering the potentially debilitating side effects of what is one of Australia’s biggest causes of disability and death.

Affecting more women than breast cancer and more men than prostate cancer, stroke can be fatal, but much more commonly it leads to temporary or permanent disability. The cost of strokes on the Australian economy is estimated at $5 billion dollars annually.

A stroke occurs when an artery in the brain is acutely blocked, for example by a blood clot traveling from the heart to the brain or a cholesterol plaque rupturing in the wall of the blood vessel. Less commonly a bleed in the brain can cause of a stroke. The resulting lack of blood and oxygen supply to the affected area then starves parts of the brain of essential nutrients. This leads to a usually sudden onset of loss of neurological function, for example weakness or complete paralysis, difficulties speaking or understanding, dizziness and loss of balance, visual impairment, problems swallowing and sometimes headaches.

Stroke commonly leads to transient or permanent disability and in some cases even death. Many patients are left with neurological deficits such as inability to walk, speak or care for themselves and this can have a devastating impact on patients and families.

TIAs (transient ischaemic attacks) are also known as mini-strokes. These present with transient symptoms of a stroke that resolve spontaneously within minutes or hours. TIAs can be an important indicator of an impending stroke and if attended to urgently, the stroke risk may be reduced by up to 80%. So it’s extremely important to see a doctor urgently or attend the nearest emergency department, even if symptoms have completely resolved.

Response time during a stroke is critical, with an estimated 1.9 million brain cells lost per minute, leading to the phrase ‘time is brain’. The earlier a patient presents to hospital after the onset of stroke symptoms, the higher the chances of receiving an early treatment that often leads to much better outcomes and less disability.

Acute stroke treatments include ‘clot-busting’ infusions that can help restore blood flow. More recently advances in ‘clot-retrieval’ therapy have further improved outcomes for many patients that were suitable for these interventions.

Stroke prevention strategies can be highly effective in reducing the risk for strokes. This includes managing lifestyle factors including smoking, diet and alcohol intake, weight as well as regular exercise. Dealing with medical factors such as high blood pressure and cholesterol can reduce stroke risk further. Preventative medications that may be prescribed by the GP or a specialist include blood pressure and cholesterol lowering drugs, antiplatelet medications or in some cases stronger blood thinners.

Simple strategies shown to reduce stroke risk

☑ Regularly check blood pressure with your GP
☑ Exercise 30 minutes daily
☑ Limit salt and fat intake
☑ Maximise vegetable and fruit, wholegrain foods, lean meats, nuts and seeds, legumes and beans and low-fat dairy products intake
☑ Reduce weight if necessary
☑ Don’t smoke

The FAST acronym is a good way to recognise a stroke

F: Check their Face. Has their mouth dropped?
A: Can they lift both Arms?
S: Is their Speech slurred? Do they understand you?
T: Call 000. Time is critical.
For more, call Stroke Line 1800 787 653

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