A stroke occurs when blood supply to the brain is interrupted, causing brain damage and its associated signs. Learn to spot its warning signs and seek timely medical attention.
Just remember to act F.A.S.T.
- drooping on
- to call 995 immediately
Read on to learn more about stroke,
its risk factors and how to prevent stroke.
What is a stroke?
Stroke occurs when blood supply to the brain is interrupted causing brain damage and its associated signs.
This is usually caused by a blockage of a brain blood vessel or bleeding when a brain blood vessel bursts. Blood carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain and this is essential for its normal function. When the blood supply is cut off, brain cells die and this causes the signs of stroke.
What are the signs of stroke?
The most common signs of a stroke are sudden drooping of one side of the face, weakness of one side of the body and difficulty speaking or understanding speech.
A stroke may also cause numbness on one side of the body, loss of balance or incoordination, double vision, difficulty seeing with one or both eyes and severe headache.
The mnemonic F.A.S.T. can help you remember how to recognise the important signs of a stroke. Learn about F.A.S.T. here.
What are the risk factors of stroke?
Certain conditions and lifestyle habits can increase your chances of having a stroke. These are known as risk factors.
The more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to have a stroke. We can actively do something about some of these risk factors to help prevent a stroke, and these are known as preventable risk factors.
Preventable risk factors
- High blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes
- Lifestyle factors such as an unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, being obese, smoking or tobacco use and excessive alcohol intake
- Certain blood and heart conditions such as atrial fibrillation (irregular heart rate or rhythm)
Non-preventable risk factors
- Age: The risk of stroke increases with age. This is because our arteries narrow and harden as we age
- Family history: If your relative (e.g. parent, sibling) has had a stroke, your risk may be slightly higher
- Genetic conditions: Certain rare genetic conditions can increase the risk of stroke. Your doctor will be able to advise you if you have one, and what to take note of
How can I prevent stroke?
Keep your risk factors under control
- Manage your high blood pressure
- Manage your diabetes
- Manage your high cholesterol
- Go for regular health screening and follow-up as advised
- Attend medical appointments and take prescribed medications as instructed
Blood flowing at a high pressure, uncontrolled diabetes and high “bad” cholesterol damage blood vessels over time. This results in narrowing of blood vessels and causes clots to form over the damage. These can also weaken the walls of blood vessels, predisposing them to bursting and bleeding in the brain.
If you have high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol levels, lifestyle modifications and medications can effectively control these conditions to reduce the risk of stroke. Medications need to be taken regularly as prescribed and you should follow-up with your doctor regularly.
If you have a heart condition (such as irregular heart rate) or a blood condition that increases your risk of stroke, you should follow the advice from your doctor. There are medications that may lower stroke risk.
Do you know if you have any of the above conditions? As these conditions may not show any obvious signs and symptoms, it is important, particularly for those above 40 years of age, to undergo regular health screenings and follow-up as advised by doctors.
Live a healthy lifestyle
- Have a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and low in fat
- Exercise regularly
- Maintain a healthy weight
- No smoking
- Limit alcohol intake
Exercise and a healthy diet have been shown to be effective in decreasing blood pressure, improving blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels. It seems like simple advice, but it really has a big impact!
Excess weight increases risk of several diseases that can lead to stroke, including diabetes, high blood pressure and abnormal cholesterol levels. Maintaining a healthy weight through a balanced diet and exercise helps to lower your stroke risk.
Smoking releases many chemicals that are absorbed by the body. These go into the blood and cause significant damage to the blood vessels. This increases the risk of stroke. Smoking also leads to many other diseases like lung cancer. Quit smoking and stay smoke-free.
Heavy drinking and binge drinking of alcohol increases the risk of stroke. It can also lead to liver disease, heart disease, and some cancers. Drink no more than two standard drinks a day for men, and no more than one standard drink for women. A standard alcoholic drink contains 10 grams of alcohol, and this can be estimated to be (i) 1 can (330ml) of regular beer or (ii) half a glass (175 ml) of wine or (iii) 1 nip (35 ml) of spirit.
How do I identify the signs of stroke?
F.A.S.T. is designed to help you remember the signs of stroke easily, and to know what to do if you or someone you are with is having a stroke.
- Is it drooping on one side?
- Can they lift both arms and keep them there?
- Does it sound strange or unclear?
- Call 995 immediately if you spot any of those signs.
Why should I know F.A.S.T.?
Stroke is an emergency. By recognising stroke and calling an ambulance to get to the hospital as soon as possible, a patient may be offered treatments which can only be administered in the first few hours from the onset of stroke. Early treatment is proven to improve health outcomes and reduce complications.
What should I do if I see someone having a stroke?
Call 995 for an ambulance immediately. Remember, stroke is an emergency. The faster the patient gets to the hospital, the earlier proper treatment can be given.
What are the effects of stroke?
Depending on the severity of a stroke, the impact may be minor, or may result in serious long-term implications.
People with stroke may have difficulties with the following:
- Movement and balance
- Speech and written communication
- Bladder and bowel control
- Memory and thinking
- Mood, anxiety and fatigue
What does a typical rehabilitation or stroke recovery programme include?
Rehabilitation is an important component of care following a stroke. This will be tailored to the patient’s specific needs.
Part of a rehabilitation programme will involve learning to perform daily tasks, use of tools and aids such as walking frames and exercises to improve strength and coordination.
It is critical to participate in rehabilitation and keep active to improve functional outcomes after a stroke.
Coping with life after a stroke can be challenging. After a stroke, there may be a loss in ability to perform usual daily activities and previous roles. In addition, it is common to feel down, suffer a loss of self-esteem and self-confidence. There are support services and groups to help stroke survivors and their families.
Other useful resources on stroke recovery and support include: