Whilst Strokes themselves are acute, the nature of their risk factors, and their impact on the sufferer, firmly place them on the WizeLife agenda as a chronic disease. Strokes in fact are often as a result of other chronic diseases, and as such need to be taken seriously. Each year 15 million people worldwide suffer from a stroke. Of these 15 million sufferers, 6 million worldwide die, and 5 million are left permanently disabled.
A stroke is the term given to a medical emergency as a result of blood supply and oxygen being cut off from a part of the brain. The result can be permanent brain injury or death. The brain needs a constant supply of oxygen, via the blood, to function and sustain the body and life. If this is cut off for any reason, as in the case of a stroke, then the result can be life-changing or life-threatening. Strokes themselves are an acute illness happening suddenly and requiring urgent treatment to minimise the lasting damage. Speed is of the essence. Strokes also can be seen as a symptom of chronic disease on account of their specific risk factors, and the nature of brain damage after a stroke.
Strokes can be identified in large part due to the sudden onset of symptoms. These symptoms are wide-ranging, specific, but all have the commonality of the suddenness at which they develop. They include numbness, weakness, confusion, dizziness, and severe headache with no known cause.
The UK has developed a public education campaign regarding the symptoms of stroke - they recommend using the acronym FAST:
Face: is it drooping, an uneven smile, or droopy eye
Arms: someone suffering a stroke will be unable to lift both arms and keep them there
Speech: the speech may be slurring and garbled, or absent altogether
Time: if you witness the sudden onset of these three symptoms you need to call an ambulance immediately.
The types of stroke fall in to certain categories.
Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA): sometimes known as a ‘warning stroke’ or ‘mini-stroke’. TIA’s occur when blood supply is temporarily restricted to the brain for a period of between half an hour and several hours. In themselves they are often a danger sign that a larger stroke is imminent in the future.
Ischaemic: These are the most common form of stroke when a blockage results in blood and oxygen reaching the brain. The most common reason for this is an arterial clot or a narrowing of the arteries, known as Carotid Stenosis. The result is the blood flow is blocked or severely reduced.
Haemorrhagic Stroke: These strokes occur when an artery in the brain bursts, causing a bleed in the brain. There are two main types. The first is Intracerebral Haemorrhage, when a blood vessel within the brain itself leaks blood in to the brain. The second is called Subarachnoid Haemorrhage which is when there is bleeding under the outer membranes of the brain in to the fluid-filled space surrounding the brain. These are the most dangerous type of stroke, often resulting in death.
The single biggest factor in minimising your risk of stroke is understanding and mitigating the risks as far as possible. The following are risk factors associated with strokes:
Age: an individual’s risk of stroke increases with age, most notably after the age of 65.
Race: certain races have a higher predisposition to stroke. These include South Asians, Africans and Caribbean individuals. These races are thought to have a higher risk due to their predisposition to developing hypertension.
Smoking: regular smoking increases the risk of stroke.
Weight: being overweight or obese increases the risk of stroke.
Lack of Exercise: mobility is important for reducing the risk of stroke.
Sickle Cell Disease: individuals with sickle cell disease are more predisposed to having strokes, particularly at a younger age.
Poor Diet: most notably a diet high in saturated fat and salt is known to increase the risk of high blood pressure and therefore stroke.
Certain Contraceptives & Hormone Treatment: certain oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapies are known to carry an associated risk of stroke.
High Cholesterol: those with high cholesterol are at increased risk of stroke.
Family History: whether an individual is predisposed to stroke needs to account for genetics and the prevalence of stroke within the family.
Gender: women are more likely to experience a stroke than men.
Heart Attack & Heart Conditions: are known to increase the risk of stroke, for example, Atrial Fibrillation, a heart rhythm disorder.
Reduction of risk is the most key factor when managing an individual’s risk from stroke, and risk of further stroke following TIA’s. The approach to be taken for management of an individual following a stroke is wide-ranging and complex. For a detailed examination of proposed treatment it is worth seeing the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) UK’s approach to stroke management.
- Providing information and support to the sufferer’s family and carers
- Specialist Care
- Medication, for example: Alteplase, aspirin, anticoagulants and statins.
- Blood Sugar Control
- Blood Pressure Control
- Rehabilitation and Mobilisation
At WizeLife we believe in bringing health information, tailored specifically to you, to your inbox via a simple, easy, online assessment. Compiled by medical experts using a plethora of the most up to date medical studies, we can assess your risk factors for chronic diseases such as Stroke. However, knowledge is power, and so we go beyond this. We actively give you information and advice based on your known health risks compared to a perfectly healthy virtual patient, and advise you on what you can do to target elevated risks and reduce them in line with an ideal health basis, making you healthier and less at-risk. For tips on managing and reducing the risks associated with Stroke, take our 7-minute test now.