Strokes: What they are and how to prevent them

More than 56,000 new and recurrent strokes to be recorded by the end of 2018 alone. Source: Getty

While most people are aware that strokes are a serious health condition impacting many people both in Australia and around the world, many aren’t aware how serious they can be.

Strokes are one of Australia’s biggest killers, claiming more lives than breast cancer and prostate cancer. They’re also one of the leading causes of disability, with more than 56,000 new and recurrent strokes to be recorded by the end of 2018 alone. In addition, more than 475,000 will be living with the effects of a stroke – a number expected to increase to one million by 2050.

So what actually is a stroke?

“A stroke happens when blood supply to the brain is cut off due to a blood clot or a burst artery. When brain cells do not get enough oxygen or nutrients through the blood stream, they die,” Toni Aslett, Stroke Foundation Executive Director, tells Starts at 60. “Every stroke is different depending on where in the brain it strikes and how severe it is. A stroke can destroy up to 1.9 million brain cells a minute, however, the right treatment at the right time can stop this damage.”

Some of the biggest risk factors of a stroke include age, having a family history of strokes, while men are also more likely to experience them. An array of lifestyle factors including smoking status, obesity, poor exercise and high cholesterol and blood pressure can also increase your risk. 

Treatments have changed dramatically in recent years, but it’s still vital for people to act quickly. One of most effective ways is to be aware of the F.A.S.T test, which is an easy way to identify the common signs of a stroke.

“We encourage everyone in the community to remember and share the F.A.S.T signs of stroke with your family, friends and colleagues to help avoid delays in diagnosis,” Aslett recommends.

F stands for Face. If you or someone you love is experiencing a stroke, the face can be one of the first signs. Always check the face and whether the mouth has drooped.

A stands for Arms. In many cases, a stroke victim won’t be able to life both their arms.

S stands for Speech. If speech is slurred and you’re having trouble understanding them or they’re having difficulty understanding you, this could be a problem.

T stands for Time. In the case of a stroke, time is critical. Triple-zero should be called immediately if you notice any of the above symptoms.

Up to 80 per cent of strokes are actually preventable and there are a number of things people can do to reduce the risk of a stroke.

“These include managing your blood pressure and cholesterol, eating healthily, exercising, avoiding smoking and limiting alcohol consumption,” Aslett explains. “There is one stroke every nine minutes in Australia. At the current rate of growth there will be one every four minutes by 2050, but it does not have to be this way. Prevention and early detection are the keys to stemming the tide and reducing the number of lives impacted by stroke.”

Each year, the financial cost of strokes in Australia is around $5 billion, while funding for stroke research through the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) made up just 4.1 per cent of all investment in medical research. In addition, 65 per cent of people who survive a stroke also experience a disability which can impact their ability to complete day-to-day tasks without assistance.

“Our stroke risk does increase as we age and that is why it is so important to visit your GP regularly and take control or your health,” Aslett says.

What do you think? Have you been impacted by a stroke? How has it changed your life?

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