Health & Safety

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STROKE - Are You at Risk of a Stroke?

23 October 2016

Whilst its often thought that strokes are more common in older people, the age of people suffering from them is in fact declining. According to The Stroke Association, the number of strokes in people aged between 20 and 64 years of age grew by a quarter from 2000 to 2014. The increase in stroke rates among younger men and women is worrying and needs to be taken seriously warn the British Heart Foundation.

Stroke Association volunteer supporting stroke survivor - (c)

What is a Stroke?

A stroke is a brain attack which happens when the blood supply to the brain is cut off, caused by a clot or bleeding in the brain. There are around 152,000 strokes in the UK every year and it is the leading cause of severe adult disability. There are over 1.2 million people in the UK living with the effects of stroke.

What’s to Blame?

The Stroke Association attributes this ticking timebomb to our increasingly sedentary lifestyles and unhealthy diets. But they’re not the only factors. Although there’s an increase in sedentary activity and obesity levels now, it is only part of this complex picture.

‘Non-modifiable’ risks – what you can’t change

One part of this picture is ‘non-modifiable’ risks: that is, certain stroke-risk factors you have no control over such as having a family history of strokes, being older, and being from a certain ethnic group - South Asian, African and Caribbean people are more at risk of higher blood pressure, and therefore of stroke. Atrial fibrillation (AF), an abnormal heart rhythm where the heart beats irregular and often fast. AF becomes more common as we get older and increases the risk of having a stroke. Also if you have established cardiovascular disease elsewhere (coronary heart disease or peripheral arterial disease in your legs) this can increase the risk of a stroke.

What You Can Change

Thankfully, there are also ‘modifiable’ risks, things you can change or manage in a bid to ward off the danger of stroke. These include:

  • Smoking,
  • high blood pressure,
  • high blood cholesterol,
  • physical inactivity,
  • being overweight or obese,
  • having diabetes.

So, to change what you can before it’s too late?

Six Questions Everyone Needs to Answer

Are You Too Fat?

Most people are aware that being overweight can contribute to stroke risk, but the actual figures are alarming. A few years ago, studies from the university medical school in Naples, Italy, showed people who were overweight were 22% more likely to suffer a stroke than people of normal weight, while obese people were 64% more likely to suffer one. Stroke risk was 24% greater for obese people.

Are You Smoking?

Smoking can significantly increase your risk of stroke by increasing blood pressure and reducing oxygen in the blood. In fact, a smoker with high blood pressure is 15 times more likely to have a subarachnoid haemorrhage (a stroke caused by a bleed) than those who’ve never smoked or don’t have high blood pressure.

Are You Drinking?

Some experts say drinking too much alcohol (six or more standard drinks per day) increases your risk of stroke due to the simple fact that it raises your blood pressure (yes, even if you’re drinking ‘to relax’).

Are You Eating Too Much Salt?

If we all cut 1g of salt from our average daily meals, there would be 6,000 fewer deaths from stroke and heart attacks in the UK each year. Experts say that cutting down salt is the best way to reduce your chances of having a stroke. You will not find a simpler and easier method of reducing your chances of stroke than eliminating salt.

Are You Sleeping Too Much?

We’re often told too little sleep is bad for your health, and poor sleep is linked to everything from heart disease, diabetes and obesity to depression and Alzheimer's. But actually, too much sleep can have an adverse effect too. Recent research by the University of Cambridge showed people who got an average of eight hours sleep had a 46% higher than average risk of having a stroke.

Are You Unaware of Your Blood Pressure?

A recent survey showed 96% of people knew high blood pressure increased the risk of stroke, but 46% didn’t know what theirs was. The solution is simple: see your GP and get a test.

Different Types of Stroke

There are actually two types of stroke – ischaemic and haemorrhagic.

Ischaemic Strokes

A majority of strokes are ischaemic strokes, that are caused when a blood clot blocks an artery carrying blood to your brain. The blood clots occur due to a furring up of the arteries by fatty deposits – this process is called atherosclerosis. This is the same process as what happens in a heart attack.

haemorrhagic stroke

Other types of strokes can happen as a result of blood vessel bursting causing a bleed on the brain. These types of strokes don’t necessarily share the same risk factors as ischaemic strokes – however high blood pressure can increase the risk.

Stroke Association

The 'Stroke Association' is a charity that believes in life after stroke and together aims to conquer stroke. The Charity works directly with stroke survivors and their families and carers, with health and social care professionals and with scientists and researchers. They campaign to improve stroke care and support people to make the best recovery they can. The Charity funds research to develop new treatments and ways of preventing stroke.

The Stroke Association, says that too many people dismissed the early warning signs of stroke. Stroke is a medical emergency and getting the right treatment fast can save lives. Through this latest campaign it's hoped as many people as possible know how to act Fast and help reduce the devastating impact a stroke can have.

‘Act FAST’ Campaign

The 'Act FAST' campaign urges people to Act FAST if they notice any of the following symptoms, even if they disappear within a short space of time.

This year’s campaign will also target African and Caribbean and South Asian communities, as findings reveal they are twice as likely to be at a risk of stroke.

Previous 'Act FAST' campaigns have been successful at showing just how important it is that we continue to raise awareness of the symptoms of stroke. Highlighting the importance of treating mini strokes with the same urgency as strokes can also make a huge difference: around 10,000 strokes could be prevented annually if mini strokes were treated in time. That’s why the 'Act FAST' campaign encourages people experiencing stroke-like symptoms to call 999.

Far too many people dismiss their early warning signs of stroke and delay calling 999. Stroke is a medical emergency and getting the right treatment fast can save lives.

Through this latest campaign we hope as many people as possible know how to 'Act FAST' and help reduce the devastating impact a stroke can have.

Additional symptoms of stroke and mini stroke include:

  • sudden loss of vision or blurred vision in one or both eyes,
  • sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body,
  • sudden memory loss or confusion,
  • sudden dizziness, unsteadiness or a sudden fall, especially with any of the other symptoms.

A mini stroke is also known as a Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA). It is caused by a temporary disruption in the blood supply to part of the brain.

Every Minute Counts

Watch the Act FAST animation "Every minute counts" video: