Stroke as the name implies refers to an incident that happens suddenly…without warning. It usually occurs when the brain is deprived of some of its blood supply and consequently oxygen supply. This can happen when there is a blood clot in a vessel in the brain or due to a burst blood vessel leaking blood onto the substance of the brain or around the brain. This blood leakage can lead to undesired pressure on the brain.
Oftentimes, people refer to a Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA), as a partial stroke. This condition occurs when a blood vessel is partially blocked. This would usually be resolved within 15 minutes and is a sign that a major event (a stroke, proper) may not be far off. This is a warning that should be taken seriously.
It is important to know the signs of a stroke because if action is taken immediately, it can prevent permanent damage from being done. If the brain is deprived of its blood supply for about 4 minutes, irreversible changes begin to occur in the brain. If this deprivation continues beyond this time, permanent changes would have occurred that may affect different facets of the individual’s functions.
The signs of stroke to look out for are known by the acronym FAST.
• F stands for drooping of a side of the face. Ask the patient to smile and you will observe that the smile looks lopsided.
• A stands for weakness of one side of the body. Ask patient to lift both arms and it will be seen that one side is being ‘dragged’ or lagging
• S stands for speech difficulty like slurring. Patient cannot enunciate words properly again
• T stands for time. Once these symptoms are noticed, it’s time to call for help. In climes where there are emergency numbers like 911 or 999, please call these. Otherwise, efforts should be made to take the person involved to the hospital immediately.
Patients may also complain of sudden inability to move legs, feel confused, have blurred vision etc
There are risk factors for stroke and they include:
• Age: The older you are the more prone to stroke. People from age 55 years are more likely to have a stroke, though this can also happen in children eg those born with heart defects and those with Sickle Cell Anaemia etc
• Race: Africans and Asians are more at risk
• Sex: Females are more at risk…as if we don’t have enough problems
• Family history of stroke: The presence of this increases risk
• Previous history of a stroke.
Other risk factors:
• Diabetes Mellitus
• Sedentary lifestyles
• Not eating healthy
• Drinking Alcohol
The rate at which one recovers from stroke and indeed the degree of symptoms experienced, depends on the area of the brain affected, how serious the damage to the brain is etc and so recovery will be different for different people.
Patience is key. Speech therapists may be needed to help the person re-learn the art of speaking. Physiotherapists will help improve motion on the affected side and indeed, mobility. Other therapists may help with eating…if swallowing is a problem, relearning the art of reading and reasoning etc
Usually, people who visit find it difficult to understand their speech during recovery and this can put even more pressure on the patients. Speak slowly and listen carefully so you can understand what they are saying.
Generally eating healthy with lots of fruits and vegetables, cutting out the white carbs (pastries etc), exercising (at least 150 minutes weekly), ensuring you are not overweight and quitting smoking help with reducing bad cholesterol and also preventing strokes.
One may need to walk with a stick as they re-learn the art of walking. Recovery may be long and tedious but the person has got to keep at it.
For more tips on preventing stroke, read!