Printed Sunday Dec 8th, 2013
Any advice published on this website is intended as additional information for registered patients only. It is not intended as a substitute for seeking advice from a GP where necessary and appropriate.
A stroke is a serious medical condition that occurs when the blood supply to the brain is disturbed.
Like all organs, our brain needs the oxygen and nutrients provided by our blood to function properly. If the supply of blood is restricted or stopped, brain cells begin to die. This can lead to brain damage and possibly death.
Strokes are a medical emergency, and prompt treatment is essential because the sooner a person receives treatment for a stroke, the less damage is likely to happen.
Types of stroke
There are two main causes of strokes:
There is also a related condition known as a transient ischaemic attack (TIA), where the supply of blood to the brain is temporarily interrupted, causing a sort of 'mini-stroke'. TIAs should be treated very seriously as they are often a warning sign that a full stroke is coming.
Strokes can be treated and prevented
Strokes can usually be successfully treated and they can also be prevented. Following a healthy diet, taking regular exercise, drinking alcohol in moderation and not smoking will dramatically reduce your risk of having a stroke.
Strokes can be treated using a combination of surgery and medicines. However, many people will require a long period of rehabilitation after a stroke, and not all will recover fully.
The best way to prevent a stroke is to eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and avoid smoking and excessive consumption of alcohol.
A poor diet is a major risk factor for a stroke. High-fat foods can lead to the build-up of fatty plaques in your arteries, and being overweight can lead to high blood pressure.
A low-fat, high-fibre diet is recommended, including plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables (five portions a day) and whole grains. You should limit the amount of salt that you eat to no more than 6g (0.2oz) a day because too much salt will increase your blood pressure. 6g of salt is about one teaspoonful.
There are two types of fat - saturated and unsaturated. You should avoid food containing saturated fats because these will increase your cholesterol levels.
Foods high in saturated fat include:
However, a balanced diet should include a small amount of unsaturated fat, which will actually help reduce your cholesterol levels.
Foods high in unsaturated fat include:
Combining a healthy diet with regular exercise is the best way to maintain a healthy weight. Having a healthy weight reduces your chances of developing high blood pressure.
Regular exercise will make your heart and blood circulatory system more efficient; it will lower your cholesterol level, and also keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.
For most people, 30 minutes of vigorous exercise a day at least five times a week is recommended. The exercise should be strenuous enough to leave your heart beating faster, and you should feel slightly out of breath. Examples of vigorous exercise are going for a brisk walk, or walking up a hill.
If you are recovering from a stroke, you should discuss possible exercise plans with the members of your rehabilitation team. Regular exercise may be impossible in the first weeks or months following a stroke, but you should be able to begin exercising once your rehabilitation has progressed.
Smoking is a major risk factor for strokes because it raises your blood pressure and can cause a build-up of fatty plaques in your arteries.
The NHS Smoking Helpline can offer you advice and encouragement to help you quit smoking. You can call on 0800 022 4 332, or visit the NHS Go smokefree website.
Your GP or pharmacist will also be able to provide you with help and advice about giving up smoking.
Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to high blood pressure and an irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation). Both are major risk factors for stroke.
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