Stroke

Learn more about stroke, its causes, signs, diagnosis and treatment.

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What causes a stroke? 

Blood is brought to the brain by blood vessels called arteries. A stroke happens when an artery to the brain is blocked or bursts, due for example to high blood pressure or a weak artery wall from birth.This causes blood supply to a part of the brain to be cut off and the cells in that part of the brain die. When this happens, the functions that are controlled by that part of the brain are lost. 

A stroke is considered a medical emergency so prompt medical attention is important. Recognising the signs of a stroke and early treatment can minimise brain damage and potential complications. 

Risk Factors

There are many factors that can increase your stroke risk. Some risk factors for stroke are unchangeable such as age and family history.

Other factors are related to our lifestyle. These include:
Smoking
Being overweight increases your chances of other stroke risk factors like high blood pressure, heart disease, high blood cholesterol, atherosclerosis and diabetes
Eating food high in salt and saturated fat can lead to high blood pressure, increasing your risk of stroke
Being inactive increases your risk of being overweight and your likelihood of other stroke risk factors 
Drinking too much alcohol increases your risk of stroke
Stress, if not managed properly, can lead to high blood pressure

Some medical conditions, if poorly controlled, can increase the risk of stroke. These include:
Atrial fibrillation (a heart rhythm disorder)

Related: Learn More About Stroke

Stroke: Signs and Symptoms

Depending on which part of the brain is affected, a person may have different symptoms. One or more of the following symptoms may be present:
Sudden numbness or weakness usually on one side of the body
Sudden confusion or a fit
Difficulty speaking or understanding speech
Sudden difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
Sudden difficulty in walking
Difficulty in swallowing
Sudden severe giddiness, loss of balance or coordination
Sudden severe headache with no known cause
Loss of concentration and memory
Loss of control of bladder and/or bowels

Stroke Diagnosis

If you have the signs and symptoms of stroke such as weakness or numbness of the limbs, you will undergo some tests which may include: 
Blood tests (e.g. to detect diabetes and high blood cholesterol)
Brain scan — usually a computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to confirm the type of stroke (whether it is due to a blood clot or burst blood vessel) and where it has occurred
Electrocardiogram (ECG) — to look for heart disease
Ultrasound scans (e.g. scanning the blood vessels to the brain to look for abnormalities)
Angiogram — an X-ray test in which a small tube is inserted via a blood vessel in the groin to reach the blood vessels to the brain. A dye injected through the tube then shows the degree of blockage of blood vessels or the location of the bleeding in the brain


Related: All About Health Screening

Stroke Treatment

Medication — the doctor may prescribe medication; for example, in the case of a stroke caused by a blood clot, “blood thinners” may be prescribed
Surgery — a stroke that is caused by a blood vessel that has burst may require urgent surgery to stop the bleeding. In other cases, surgery may be performed later to reduce the risk of another stroke; for example if there is serious narrowing of the neck artery, an operation may be done to remove or open up the narrowed area
Rehabilitation — this is a very important part of treatment for stroke. See below for more information


Self-Care

Lead a healthy lifestyle by:
Not smoking
Maintaining a healthy weight range — keep your BMI ranging from 18.5 to 22.9
Having a healthy diet which is low in fat, salt and sugar and high in fibre. Make sure to include at least two servings each of fruits and vegetables daily
Exercising for 30 minutes at least five days a week. If you have not been exercising regularly, check with your doctor before you start an exercise programme
Limiting your alcohol intake to no more than two standard drinks (for men) and one standard drink (for women) per day
Managing your stress

Living with Stroke: Post-Stroke Rehabilitation

The aim of rehabilitation is to allow you to regain as much independence as possible. Rehabilitation will start as soon as your doctor feels it is possible and will continue after your discharge from hospital.

Rehabilitation usually involves a group of specialists and depends on the type of stroke.

Rehabilitation includes:
Teaching of mobility skills (physiotherapy) — walking, moving from chair to bed, etc
Swallowing and speech therapy
Teaching of self-care skills (occupational therapy) like bathing, dressing and feeding independently

Your doctor will refer you to the appropriate rehabilitation specialist (e.g. physiotherapists and speech therapists). 

Rehabilitation often continues on an outpatient basis after discharge from hospital.

Related: Post Stroke Conditions

Prevention

Go for regular check ups

 

Watch Out for a Transient Ischaemic Attack

A transient ischaemic attack (TIA), sometimes called a mini-stroke is a warning sign of a stroke — it has been found that one in three people who have a TIA will eventually have a stroke, with about half occurring within a year of a TIA. However, not all who have a stroke get this warning sign. 

A TIA happens when blood supply to a part of the brain is temporarily cut off. It may last from a few seconds to up to 24 hours, after which there is complete recovery. Since symptoms of a TIA are often vague and temporary, people tend to ignore them. However, early effective treatment of a TIA can help to prevent a stroke from occurring in the future.

The signs of TIA resemble those found early in a stroke. Should you have any of the following warning signs, you should see a doctor immediately:
Sudden, unexplained tingling and/or numbness on one side of the body
Sudden weakness or paralysis of the face, arm or leg
Sudden severe headache with no obvious cause
Dizziness or fainting
Blurred vision
Difficulty talking
Stumbling and/or sudden clumsiness

Stroke is a medical emergency — the earlier the treatment, the better the recovery. The longer a stroke goes untreated, the greater the damage. Once a part of the brain dies, it cannot be repaired and the effects are permanent. Follow your doctor's advice on diet, physical activity and take any medication that is prescribed diligently.



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