Stroke is a major cause of permanent disability, and although the condition is more usually associated with the elderly, it can affect people at any stage in their lives.
What causes stroke?
A stroke is caused when an artery supplying blood to the brain compromised, usually as a result of a blockage or rupture. The resultant lack of blood supply to the brain deprives its cells of oxygen and glucose. If the deprivation is brief, brain cells will recover fully but if the period lasts for three or four minutes or more, permanent damage may occur resulting in varying degrees of disability depending upon which areas of the brain were affected.
Stroke victims often lose their power of speech and in severe cases may become permanently disabled and in need of assistance with simple tasks and personal daily living activities. In some cases, stroke happens because of existing health conditions but many of us can do a lot to reducing the likelihood of having a stroke.
About 80% of strokes are categorized as ischemic stroke and are caused when a blood clot develops in the brain which cuts off blood flow. The other type of stroke is called, hemorrhagic stroke. This happens when a blood vessel in the brain actually ruptures causing damage to the tissues immediately surrounding the bleed. This is the most serious kind of stroke.
Controllable risk factors
There are many potential causes of strokes which are influenced to an extent by a person’s lifestyle and can therefore be reduced or even eliminated altogether if that lifestyle is changed in order to reduce the risks.
The leading risk factor for stroke is high blood pressure, which is often caused by obesity or complications arising from smoking. Another major risk factor is atherosclerosis; fatty plaques accumulate on the artery walls, narrowing the blood vessels and potentially leading to stroke. Heart disease and high cholesterol often associated with diabetes and obesity are two main causes of stroke as are the oxygen deprivations caused by smoking tobacco.
Atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat) multiplies a person’s chances of having a stroke by five. With this condition, the two upper chambers of the heart beat unpredictably and rapidly allowing blood to pool which can form clots which then travel to the brain and cause a stroke.
Excessive consumption of alcohol can cause increased risk of stroke and certain types of medication, in particular anti-coagulants, can also increase risk. Illegal drugs such as heroin and cocaine are also known to cause stroke.
Clearly, many of the above factors can be managed; you can stop smoking, reduce your alcohol intake, lose weight and get fitter. Your doctor will be able to offer advice on other areas mentioned above if you are concerned that you may be at risk.
Uncontrollable risk factors
There are some things you just can’t change. For example, African-Americans are statistically more likely to suffer from stroke than whites. This is because African-Americans have an increased risk of raised blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. Also, family history plays a part. If members of your immediate family have suffered from strokes, there’s an increased chance that you will too and if you’ve already had one stroke, there’s an increased likelihood that you could have another. If you’ve suffered a mini-stroke this should be taken as a warning sign that a more serious one could be in the offing.
The likelihood of stroke is increased if a person has an aneurysm, a bulge in the arterial wall. Other arterial abnormalities can also predispose to stroke. Sufferers of fibromuscular dysplasia are at increased of stroke. With this condition, some arteries do not develop correctly with fibrous tissue causing narrowing of the arterial walls, a condition which can lead to stroke.
A person suffering from hole in the heart is at increased risk of stroke. This condition very often goes unnoticed as there are no real symptoms and no obvious increased risk factors. A hole between the two upper heart chambers can allow a blood clot to pass through and onward to the brain.
If you at all concerned that you may be at risk of stroke, do ask your GP for advice and take a look at your current lifestyle; there may well be much you can do to help yourself.
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