Most people have heard of a stroke, but surprisingly few people actually know exactly what they are and whether they are at risk of stroke. In basic terms, a stroke happens when the blood supply to the brain is limited or stopped. This means that oxygen cannot reach the brain, which causes the cells of the organ to die.
The most common cause of stroke is the arteries narrowing, due to fatty deposits building up on the artery walls. These fatty deposits are caused by a number of things such as poor diet, smoking, obesity and high cholesterol.
Are you at Risk of Stroke?
If you’re aged 50 or over, you’re statistically more vulnerable to the risk of stroke. In fact, of those who live to the age of 85, up to a quarter will suffer a stroke at some point in their lives. A stroke occurs when the supply of blood to the brain is cut off (usually because of a blood clot or bleed on the brain), which results in brain damage. This damage, which may be temporary or permanent, affects many aspects of everyday life; including speech, movement and thought processes.
It’s one of the most common causes of death in the UK. As a result, it’s good to be aware of the risk factors that increase your chances of suffering a stroke, and know how to avoid them.
Risk of Stroke Amongst the Middle Aged
While many tend to associate strokes with the elderly, figures compiled by the Stroke Association show that stroke rates have been rising amongst the middle aged. According to the charity, one in four stroke victims is now of working age.
In the last 15 years, the number of middle aged people suffering strokes has risen by a worrying 46%. In England alone, there were 4,260 men between the ages of 40 and 54 admitted to hospital because of a stroke in 2000, compared to 6,221 last year. For women in the same age group, the number was 3,529 in 2000 and 4,604 last year.
“There is an alarming increase in the numbers of people having a stroke in working age,” says Jon Barrick of the Stroke Association. “This comes at a huge cost, not only to the individual, but also to their families and to health and social care services.
“The simple truth is that we must do more to raise people’s awareness of risk factors, to help prevent them from having a stroke. We also need the right health and social care services available. People must have the support they need to make the best possible recovery and avoid having to cope for decades with the disabilities stroke can bring.”
Can You Prevent a Stroke?
It’s impossible to guarantee that you’ll never have a stroke. There are certain risk factors that you’ll be unable to take action against, such as age, gender and even race (Afro-Caribbean people are among a higher risk group).
However, there is plenty that you can do to reduce your risk, not to mention improve your general health as a whole.
Making the Right Lifestyle Choices to Minimise the Risk of Stroke
Suffering a stroke can have a significant negative impact on your life, not to mention those around you. That’s why it’s advisable to take action, in order to ensure that your chances of having a stroke remain as low as possible.
Here are a few lifestyle changes that you can make to reduce the risk:
- Stop smoking. By now, you’re probably well aware of the damage that smoking can do to the lungs; indeed, it’s very well publicised. However, not so many people are aware of the link between smoking and stroke. In fact, regular smoking doubles your risk of having a stroke. Dame Sally Davies, England’s chief medical officer, states: “We know about the serious effect smoking has on the heart and lungs but smokers need to be aware of how much potential damage is being done to the brain and other vital organs through toxins in cigarettes entering the blood.” Cigarettes contribute to furring of the arteries, which in turn, makes your blood far more likely to clot. If you smoke and you also have high blood pressure, you’re at even higher risk of having a stroke. Of course, kicking the habit isn’t easy. However, there are many support groups, online and in your local area; that are there to help you alongside many smoking cessation and nicotine replacement products that are available.
- Reduce alcohol consumption. Of course, there is nothing wrong with the odd drink, and in fact, light to moderate drinking has been shown to help reduce the risk of suffering a stroke. However, heavy drinking actually has the opposite effect. According to research recently conducted in Scotland, those who drank over five units per day significantly increased their risk of having a stroke.
- Improve your diet. It goes without saying that a good diet is going to help you to avoid a stroke. However, there are certain foods that are rich in antioxidants, which are especially helpful in lowering the chances of blood clotting in the arteries leading to the brain. Vegetables such as broccoli, brussels sprouts and cabbage are excellent sources of antioxidants, as are red peppers and blackcurrants. Eating plenty of fibre also helps lower the risk; and it’s currently recommended that you should have three portions of wholegrain cereal per day.
- Take on regular exercise.The best thing about getting fit is that you can make a start today, by simply making some changes to your lifestyle. If you’d like to start introducing exercise into your daily life, begin gently and gradually increase duration and intensity as you become more comfortable. To read more about the link between exercise and stroke, click on this link. If you’ve got any existing health problems, you may want to talk with your GP before commencing.
Stay Healthy…Stay Happy
If you’re concerned that you might be at a higher risk of stroke, book an appointment to discuss your health with your GP. Don’t ignore any concerns that you may have. By being aware of the warning signs of a stroke, you may be able to save someone’s life or ensure that early treatment is administered. Having a stroke has a tremendous impact in your life but its harmful effects can be reduced by early diagnosis.
Finally, it is vitally important to take any worries that you might have seriously, and to commit to making positive changes in your lifestyle.
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