A stroke is a medical emergency that can lead to permanent disability and even death. It is a scary experience for both the sufferer and onlookers. However, it is possible to recover well after a stroke. But the chance of good recovery increases with early treatment.
Starting early treatment is easy when a stroke happens in the hospital. But unfortunately, such coincidences don’t happen too often in real life. Most strokes occur at home, at work, party, or anywhere. So the ability to recognise a stroke fast is vital for getting the needed treatment on time.
Signs and symptoms of stroke
- The face, arm, or leg may suddenly get weak on one side of the body. The person may experience difficulty or inability to smile properly using both sides of the face, or they may become unable to raise both arms or legs to the same extent.
These changes must be sudden and show a deviation from the sufferer’s usual ability. Although weakness is more common, some people only experience numbness in those body parts.
- Sudden problems with speech. There may be difficulty talking or finding the right words to say (to the degree that is clearly abnormal). Some people may have trouble understanding what is spoken to them, as if they suddenly lose the ability to understand their everyday language.
- Sudden confusion. People experiencing a stroke may not only be confused about language, but they may also get confused about their surroundings.
- Sudden dizziness. Sometimes, there may be a brief loss of consciousness or fainting.
- Sudden loss of vision in one or both eyes.
- Sudden severe headache, which may be accompanied by vomiting.
Note that these symptoms develop suddenly.
In some individuals, the symptoms will only last for a few minutes (or a few hours) before they make 100% recovery without medical intervention. Such scenarios are tagged as Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA) or ‘mini strokes’.
Although they recover on their own within a short time, such individuals still need treatment because they have an increased risk of having a full-blown stroke. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), many people experience a major stroke within a week of a TIA; up to 10-15% will have a stroke within three months, and about 50% will have one within a year of the warning attack.
What causes stroke?
Stroke is caused by reduced blood supply and death of brain tissues. The brain is one of the essential organs in the body because it is responsible for many things – from eating to talking to walking, etc. The brain has a high demand for oxygen to keep its cells working, and this oxygen is supplied by blood vessels that branch out to reach different parts of the brain.
If something goes wrong with the blood vessels, the oxygen supply will be cut off, and the affected part of the brain will begin to die within 4-5 minutes The loss of brain cells manifests as the symptoms of stroke. Suppose the part of the brain that controls the movement of the left arm is affected. In such a case, the cell injury will manifest as an inability to move the left arm.
Two things commonly happen to the brain’s blood vessels to cause a stroke:
a) they may get blocked by blood clots or excess fat;
b) they may burst due to high blood pressure, vessel malformations, or aneurysms.
How to prevent stroke
The following tips can help you reduce your risk of having a stroke
- Keep your blood pressure in check. Uncontrolled high blood pressure is one of the biggest risk factors for stroke. Check your blood pressure regularly and take your prescribed medications diligently.
- Eat right. The importance of a healthy balanced diet cannot be overstated. Reduce your salt intake to maintain good blood pressure. Watch out for unsaturated fats (common in highly processed foods), which increase your cholesterol levels. Fruits and vegetables are your friends.
- Monitor your blood cholesterol. The CDC recommends that you check your cholesterol at least once every five years. If you already have high cholesterol, take your medications and maintain your doctor’s prescribed lifestyle changes.
- Be physically active, it does a lot of good.
- Quit smoking
- Reduce your alcohol consumption
- Maintain a healthy weight. Check if your BMI is healthy.
- Consult your doctor before starting oral contraceptive pills (OCPs). OCPs have been shown to increase the risk of stroke in some women.
- Sickle cell anemia is a risk factor for stroke in children. The American Society of Hematology (ASH) recommends that children aged 2-16years should have a yearly Transcranial Doppler (TCD) to prevent stroke. TCDs are affordable and available at many teaching hospitals, General hospitals, and major laboratories in Nigeria.
Key points from Healthfacts
Strokes are preventable, and getting prompt medical attention is key when they happen. It is important to recognise the signs of stroke and present at a hospital as soon as possible, whether the symptoms resolve on their own or not.