A stroke occurs when blood supply to the brain is disrupted, or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts. The brain requires an uninterrupted supply of oxygen to survive, as brain cells start to die within minutes of being oxygen-deprived. It is thus imperative that nothing happens to block or disrupt the flow of blood to the brain.

What To Do If You Think You Are  Having A Stroke

Because brain death occurs within minutes of a stroke, it is important that prompt action is taken. Time is literally of the essence. If you or someone close appears to be having a stroke, remember to act FAST.

 

F is for Face: Get the person to smile, and look for signs of drooping on one side of the face.

 

A is for Arms: Get the person to raise both arms and check if one drifts downwards.

 

S is for Speech: Get the person to repeat a simple phrase, and check if their speech is slurred or strange.

 

T is for Time: If any of these signs are visible, call 9-1-1 immediately.

 

These symptoms are indicators of a stroke. Be sure to seek medical advice even if they go away.

Ischaemic Stroke

Blood clots cause ischaemic strokes. In everyday life, blood clotting is beneficial. When you are bleeding from a wound, blood clots work to slow and eventually stop the bleeding. In the case of a stroke, however, blood clots are dangerous because they can block arteries and cut off blood flow.

Ischaemic strokes can occur in two ways:

 

  • Embolic stroke - If a blood clot forms somewhere in the body (usually the heart) it can travel through the bloodstream to your brain. Once in your brain, the clot travels to a blood vessel that’s too small for it to pass through. It gets stuck there and stops blood from getting through. Strokes that happen as a result of this are known as embolic strokes.

  • Thrombotic stroke - As blood flows through the arteries, it may leave behind cholesterol-laden ‘plaques’ that stick to the artery's inner wall. Over time, these plaques can increase in size and narrow or block the artery and stop blood from passing through. In the case of stroke, the plaques most often affect the major arteries in the neck taking blood to the brain. Strokes caused by this are known as thrombotic strokes.

Haemorrhagic Stroke

Strokes caused by a break in the wall of a blood vessel in the brain are called haemorrhagic strokes. This causes blood to leak into the brain, stopping the delivery of oxygen and nutrients.

 

Haemorrhagic strokes are described by their location in the brain. There are two types:

  • Intracerebral haemorrhage occurs when an artery inside the brain bursts and bleeds into the brain. The most common cause is high blood pressure (hypertension).

  • Subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH) is bleeding on the surface of the brain. There are 3 layers of membrane (or meninges) that cover the brain. A subarachnoid haemorrhage is a bleed that happens between the layer closest to the brain and the second layer.

 

Haemorrhagic strokes can be caused by a number of disorders that affect the blood vessels, including long-standing high blood pressure and cerebral aneurysms.

What Are The Symptoms Of Stroke?

Besides the symptoms outlined above, other symptoms of a stroke that it is important to watch out for include:

 

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, particularly if felt on one side of the body.

  • Sudden confusion and difficulty in speaking or understanding speech.

  • Sudden vision problems in one or both eyes.

  • Sudden difficulty walking, dizziness, and loss of balance or bodily coordination.

  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause.

 

Immediately seek professional medical help if you or anyone close to you are experiencing these symptoms.

What Is A Transcient Ischaemic Attack?

A transient ischaemic attack (TIA) happens when the blood supply to your brain is blocked temporarily. The signs are the same as for a stroke, but they disappear within a short time. Often, they are only present for a few minutes.

 

If the blockage clears and the blood supply starts again, the brain gets the oxygen and nutrients it needs and the signs disappear. This makes a TIA different from a stroke, where the brain cells die and your brain is permanently damaged.

 

After a TIA, your risk of stroke is higher. Stroke can lead to death or disability. A TIA is a warning that you may have a stroke and an opportunity to prevent this from happening, so it is very important you take the precautions after suffering a TIA, and see a physician for more testing.

Who Is At Risk To Suffer A Stroke?

While anybody may suffer a stroke, your risk increases with several other factors. Risk factors for stroke include:

 

  • High blood pressure

  • Heart disease

  • Type 2 Diabetes

  • Smoking

  • Oral contraceptives

  • History of transient ischemic attacks

  • High red blood cell count

  • High blood cholesterol and lipids

Preventing Stroke

Prevention is always better than cure, and that’s why it’s important to take the steps necessary to curb your potential for suffering a stroke. This is especially important if you have a family history of high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease. Here’s what you can do.

 

  • Make healthier dietary choices; swap out trans and saturated fats with other healthier fats like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and limit your intake of sodium, sugar, and cholesterol. Ensure you have lots of leafy greens, whole grains, and protein. Get in your five a day!

  • Stay active; you don’t need to be an athlete, but you can keep your body in tip top shape by going on walks, practicing yoga, and indulging in some other physical activities that you personally enjoy.

  • Maintain a healthy weight and appropriate body fat percentage.

  • Limit your alcohol intake.

  • If you’re a smoker, quit smoking.

  • Ensure your other medical conditions are under control by undergoing regular check-ups, and taking the appropriate measures to keep yourself healthy.

Life After A Stroke

After the immediate danger of stroke has passed, stroke patients are discharged, and may return home. However, many stroke patients may find their day-to-day lives impeded by changes in their physical health. How severely a stroke affects the patient depends on where the stroke occurs, and how much brain damage was caused.

 

There are several factors that determine the effects of a stroke and how the patient will recover. They are:

 

  • The type of stroke suffered

  • The location of the blocked or burst artery

  • The area of the brain affected or damaged

  • How much brain tissue is permanently damaged

  • General health of the patient before the stroke

  • Level of activity of the patient before the stroke

 

In general, stroke patients may experience:

 

  • Partial paralysis of the body

  • Weakness on one side of the body, including arms and legs

  • Difficulty controlling or coordinating movements in the arms and legs

  • Neglect of one side of the body

  • Vision loss

  • Incontinence

  • Fatigue

  • Difficulty moving and walking

  • Difficulty thinking, speaking, and understanding, with memory and insight issues

  • Difficulty reading and writing

  • Trouble with swallowing, whether it is food, drink, or saliva

  • Trouble with day-to-day tasks like showering, dressing, using the bathroom, and et cetera

  • Changes in personality and behaviour

  • Uncontrollable outbursts of emotion without cause; emotional lability

  • Worries about sex or physical changes that will make it difficult

 

Stroke rehabilitation treatments can help stroke patients to recover their mobility, strength, and independence, thus enabling them to live their lives as best as they are able. Licensed and professional physiotherapists can provide individually-crafted and personalised treatment plans that include exercises and repeated motions and movements that can help patients improve on the strength of their muscles, joints, and bodies.