According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 15 million people worldwide are affected by stroke each year. Of these, 5 million die and a similar number become permanently disabled. A stroke can seriously damage the brain, reducing functionality and quality of life permanently, so it is important to understand and learn how to avoid it.
How a stroke develops in our bodies
As explained by the WHO, our brain can only function if adequately irrigated by blood. Two large blood vessels, running along either side of the neck, carry blood from the heart to the brain. Arriving at the brain, these in turn narrow gradually until becoming tiny tubular passages supplying oxygen and nutrients to all parts of the brain. When this flow of blood is significantly reduced or even interrupted; the brain loses its ability to nourish and function, becoming seriously damaged.
Effects of this condition depend on which part of the brain is affected and how severe the damage is. A stroke may affect just one part of the body, such as the face, an arm or a leg. In other situations, it can completely paralyse important bodily functions.
When it develops into its most dangerous outcome, it is called a major stroke. A very severe stroke can cause sudden death. To realize if someone is having a stroke, it is important to observe the symptoms. The most common one is a sudden weakness of the face, arm or leg, most often on one side of the body. Other symptoms may occur, including sudden onset, numbness of the face, arm, or leg, especially on one side of the body; confusion; difficulty speaking or understanding speech; difficulty seeing with one or both eyes; difficulty walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination; severe headache with no known cause; fainting or unconsciousness.
Symptoms of a minor stroke may be similar to those of major strokes, but milder and of shorter duration, even less than an hour. In such cases, the person recovers without treatment.
Strokes can strike suddenly and be fatal if assistance is immediate. When detecting signs of stroke it is urgent to call a doctor or ambulance. A stroke can progress fast so it is imperative to take action even if the symptoms don’t appear severe. Think “FAST” and pay attention to the following symptoms:
Face. Ask the person to smile. Observe the lips are uneven.
Arms. Ask the person to raise both arms. Is one arm drifting downwards or unable to rise?
Speech. Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Notice if the speech is slurred or strange.
Time. If you detect any of these signs, call an ambulance immediately.
Pursuing healthy life habits daily can save lives, especially if we stick to the following advice:
If you’re a smoker, quit. The risk of stroke drops immediately after a person quit using tobacco products, and can be reduced by as much as half after 1 year. Every way of smoking is harmful, being it in cigarettes, cigars, pipe smoking, tobacco chewing, and even second-hand tobacco smoke.
Adopt a healthy diet. Eat at least 5 servings of fruit and vegetables a day and two servings of oily fish a week. Avoid unhealthy meals with too much food, calories, fat, sugar or salt.
Limit alcohol. We may not entirely quit alcohol, but it is important to learn how to be moderate: a man should not drink more than two alcoholic drinks a day and women not more than one.
Practise physical activity. Exercise lowers the risk of stroke for many reasons. It helps the body to burn sugars and fats and to keep a proper weight; lowers blood pressure; increases oxygen levels in your body; reduces stress; strengthens the heart muscle and bones, and improves blood circulation and muscle tone.
Check yourself regularly
Prevention includes regularly visiting our physician and being aware of our overall health. If you are living in Portugal and need medical assistance with English-speaking staff, you may contact us and we will support you with local arrangements according to your condition and availability.