Managing the risk of stroke

December 19, 2016|

A stroke occurs when the supply of blood to the brain is suddenly disrupted. Without blood flow, the brain is starved of oxygen and cells quickly die. 

Stroke is the third leading cause of death and one of the leading causes of disability amongst adults in Australia. According to the Australian Stroke Foundation 1 in 6 people will have a stroke.

The lack of blood to the brain can cause either the artery to become blocked (ischaemic stroke) or to burst (haemorrhagic stroke). Ischaemic stroke is more common and occurs when a clot forms somewhere in the body, most commonly in the heart. When the clot reaches the brain it gets stuck in one of the blood vessels, cutting off the blood supply to that part of the brain. A build up of cholesterol and other fatty material known as plaque along artery walls, often in the neck, can also preventing blood getting through causing an ischaemic stroke. 

Reduce the risk of having a stroke

There are stroke risk factors over which we have no control. They include, age, the older you are the greater the risk; gender, stroke is more common for men, and family history. 

But, when it comes to lifestyle risks, it’s a different story. Actions you take can have a real impact. Eliminating or controlling things such as high blood pressure or cholesterol, cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and obesity, which are all major risk factors, can lessen the likelihood of a stroke. 

Medical risk factors, which include having had a previous stroke or transient ischaemic attack (TIA), and conditions such as diabetes, fibromuscular dysplasia and atrial fibrillation, all increase the risk of stroke. But again, it is possible to reduce or manage the risk, this time with medication, surgery, or a combination of the two. 

For example, patients with atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart rhythm caused by quivering or fluttering in the top chambers of the heart, are at a high risk of developing the blood clots that lead to stroke. Surgeons at Epworth have recently performed a new procedure using a titanium clip to seal off the part of the heart where these clots most commonly form, with encouraging results.

“We estimate that around 20 per cent of strokes are the result of clots forming in the left atrial appendage during atrial fibrillation,” says Cardiothoracic Surgeon, Mr Michael Yii. “The clip eliminates this part of the heart where the clots frequently forms, bringing a patient’s risk of stroke back almost to the rate of the general population.”

Minimise the damage if stroke occurs

The moments after a stroke occurs are critical. The sooner you get help, the less likely you'll have serious, lasting problems and the better your chance of recovery. Even minutes can make a difference.

The signs or symptoms of a stroke will depend on which part of the brain the damage occurs, but typical symptoms will include: 
•    Numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side
•    Confusion or trouble understanding other people
•    Trouble speaking
•    Trouble seeing with one or both eyes
•    Trouble walking or staying balanced or coordinated
•    Dizziness
•    Severe headache that comes on for no reason 

The FAST test is a quick way to check someone for symptoms: 
Face: Smile! (Does one side of their face droop?) 
Arms:    Raise both arms. (Is one higher than the other? Do they have a hard time holding one up?) 
Speech: Repeat a short, simple sentence, like "Mary had a little lamb." (Do they slur their words? Is it hard to understand them?) 
Time: If any of these are "yes," go straight to hospital. CALL 000.
You will need to be taken to an Emergency Department.

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