Amongst several other serious medical conditions, strokes are the 4th largest killer in the UK. In fact, someone suffers from a stroke every five minutes and it can happen to anyone of any age, gender or race. In simple terms, one can think of strokes as a ‘brain attack’.
The reality is that while there are signs and symptoms, it’s not always possible to know quickly and with certainty that someone has experienced a stroke. For the most part, other medical conditions can also cause similar symptoms. It can be challenging to make that judgment call but it’s always best to err on the side of caution.
One way or another, time is of the essence as the more time passes, the higher the risk of permanent brain injury and disability. Immediate medical treatment can help preserve brain function and prevent disability with good recovery options.
How Does A Stroke Happen?
A stroke occurs when the blood supply to a part of the brain is interrupted or reduced. This deprives the brain tissue of oxygen and nutrients resulting in brain cells dying within mere minutes. The longer it is starved, the more damage is caused. Strokes are, without a doubt, a medical emergency and prompt treatment is essential.
What Are The Different Types Of Strokes?
There are two main types of strokes – ischemic and hemorrhagic. It’s estimated that 85% of strokes are ischemic. There is also a condition called a Transient Ischemic Attack.
Transient Ischemic attack
Doctors also refer to a transient ischemic attack (TIA) as a warning or mini-stroke. Anything that temporarily blocks blood flow to the brain can cause a TIA. In the case of a mini-stroke, the TIA symptoms often last less than 24 hours before disappearing. However, while they generally do not cause permanent brain damage, they are a serious warning sign of an impending stroke and should never be ignored.
An ischemic stroke occurs when a blood clot keeps blood from entering your brain. The blood clot is often a result of atherosclerosis, a build-up of fatty deposits on the inner lining of blood vessels. A small part of these fatty deposits can break off resulting in stopping blood flow to the brain. It’s a similar concept to that of a heart attack where a blood clot blocks blood flow to a section of your heart.
In addition, ischemic strokes can be embolic which means a blood clot can travel from another part of your body to your brain. Nearly 15% of embolic strokes are due to a condition called atrial fibrillation where your heart beats irregularly.
A thrombotic stroke is an ischemic stroke caused by a clot forming in a blood vessel inside your brain. And unlike a TIA, the blood clot causing an ischemic stroke won’t go away without proper treatment.
A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in your brain ruptures resulting in blood spilling into the surrounding tissue. There are three main types of hemorrhagic strokes which are listed below:
- Aneurysm – this causes a portion of the weakened blood vessel to balloon outward and can sometimes rupture
- Arteriovenous malformation involves abnormally formed blood vessels which could cause a hemorrhagic stroke if they rupture
- Lastly, very high blood pressure can cause weakening of the small blood vessels in the brain which can also result in bleeding into the brain
It’s not all doom and gloom as strokes can be treated and prevented. A good place to start is healthcare professionals at all levels supporting people in changing their lifestyles as modifiable risk factors play a huge role.
Recognising Stroke Symptoms
Strokes happen very suddenly and every passing minute without treatment can result in approximately 1.9 million brain cells dying. The acronym F.A.S.T is used to remind people what symptoms to look for and what they need to do.
- F = Face: Is it drooping on one side, can they smile?
- A = Arm: Can they raise both arms and keep them there?
- S = Speech: Is their speech slurred or garbled?
- T = Time: If you see any of these symptoms, call emergency services immediately
While the F.A.S.T method is great at identifying the three most common stroke symptoms, there are other signs to keep in mind.
- Sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body (legs, hands or feet)
- Difficult to find the right words or speaking in clear sentences
- Sudden onset of blurred vision or loss of sight in one or both eyes
- Sudden memory loss or confusion, dizziness or a sudden fall
- A sudden, severe and debilitating headache
Modifiable Risk Factors For Strokes
Knowing the risk factors for strokes is the first step in preventing one from happening in the first place. While there are many risk factors you can change or treat, some you can’t do anything about. Regular medical check-ups and knowing your level of risk can help make changes to reduce your risk of a stroke.
At the top of the list is high blood pressure as it is the leading cause of strokes. People should know their blood pressure and have it checked every year and keep it close to normal which is below 120/80. Anyone with high blood pressure should consult their healthcare provider to find the best measures to reduce their risk.
A research study in Canada concluded that 10 potentially modifiable factors are responsible for increased a person’s risk of having a stroke by 90%. These include blood pressure, smoking, excessive alcohol intake, illegal drug use (cocaine, heroin), diabetes, high cholesterol, psycho-social stress and depression, improper diet, obesity (waist-to-hip-ratio) and lack of physical activity.
Treatment And Prevention Of Strokes
Treatment really depends on what type of stroke the patient suffered, which part of the brain is affected and what caused it. Strokes are generally treated with medication to prevent and dissolve blood clots, reduce blood pressure and cholesterol levels. In more severe cases, surgery may be required to remove blood clots, treat brain swelling and reduce the risk of further bleeding.
Prevention is better than cure and many health conditions can be prevented through a healthy lifestyle. This includes regular exercise, a well-balanced diet and avoiding smoking and drinking excessive amounts of alcohol. Did you know that smoking doubles the risk of having a stroke and high blood pressure can triple the risk?
For Pharmacy and Surgery teams, targeted health campaigns could really benefit patients and the general public. This includes reducing blood pressure, quitting smoking, promoting a healthy lifestyle in general with enough physical activity and a healthy diet.
Online Training With VirtualOutcomes
With the help of online training courses from VirtualOutcomes, pharmacies and surgeries can ensure that all team members remain up to date on various healthcare topics to provide better support and advice to patients. You will find our training courses on obesity, smoking, diabetes and alcohol short, powerful and easily accessible.