Causes and Risk Factors of Stroke - Can We Cut The Chances?

Causes and Risk Factors of Stroke - Can We Cut The Chances?

The third most leading cause of death after cancer and heart diseases is stroke. Today, stroke strikes over 15 million people every year across the world. Unfortunately, most of the adults are unaware of the disease though many of them might know by its name.

Highlights

Stroke is a fatal disease which attacks the brain depriving it from oxygen and nutrients
Vision loss, numbness in face, lack of coordination are some of the immediate symptoms of stroke
Stroke can be prevented by controlling high blood pressure, obesity, exercising regularly and eating healthy diet

What is Stroke?

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is halted or severely reduced, depriving it of oxygen and essential nutrients. Without the adequate oxygen supply, the brain cells start to die within minutes. Stroke is a medical emergency and prompt treatment is crucial.

Why stroke is so devastating?

The moment stroke attacks an individual, about 32,000 brain cells start dying every second, if left untreated. So, early detection becomes extremely important. 2 out of 3 people who survive a stroke will have some kind of disability such as trouble talking or paralysis.

The depressing aspect is that the damage from stroke is irreversible; once it occurs there is no known medical procedure that can repair the brain.

Types of Strokes

A person can get a stroke in two ways; something which is blocking the blood flow and something that causes bleeding in the brain. These are mentioned below briefly.

Ischemic Stroke

This is the most common type, in fact, 9 out of 10 strokes happens when blood flow to the brain is interrupted. This could happen due to fatty deposits in the arteries traveling up to the brain or when a blood clot from irregular heartbeat travels to the brain and plugs the blood supply.

Hemorrhagic stroke

This is a less common type of stroke. Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when blood vessels in the brain inflate and bursts up causing bleeding in the brain. It occurs due to uncontrolled high blood pressure and taking too much of blood thinning medicine.

Why stroke has become a concern in India?

While stroke continues to threaten people across the world, impact on India is growing at an alarming rate.

  1. India accounts for 4/5th of the total cases of stroke in the world.
  2. The rates of stroke in India are much higher than other developing countries with approximately 1.8 million people suffering from the disease every year.
  3. A recent study by AIIMS shows that 440 patients out of 2634 admitted for ischemic stroke were in the age group of 18-45 years of age. That means more and more young people are falling prey to the disease.
  4. Common risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension, and smoking are inadequately managed due to lack of awareness about the disease.
  5. Another major challenge is many people are unable to get proper access to treatment and rehabilitation which makes things more troublesome.
  6. Even when access to healthcare and infrastructure are available, ignorance of symptoms and hesitancy in admitting to hospital often leads to delay in the treatment.

What are the symptoms of stroke?

Stroke occurs in the body parts controlled by the brain. The symptoms include:

  • Numbness or weakness in face, arms or leg, especially on one side of these body parts
  • Slurring speech
  • Confusion
  • Trouble walking
  • Vision loss in one or both the eyes
  • Severe headache
  • Dizziness
  • Lack of coordination or loss of balance

Causes and risk factors of stroke

Now after drawing a brief outline of the condition, it’s important to know what causes stroke so that we can avert the damage. Let’s begin with top reasons that are likely to cause stroke. These include risks that can’t be changed.

High Blood Pressure

Hypertension or high blood pressure remains the biggest reason behind stroke. If your blood pressure is 140/90 or higher, then you should discuss this thing with your doctor without delay.

Tobacco smoking or chewing

It’s a well-established fact that tobacco causes tons of health issues. Nicotine raises the blood pressure and pushes you towards the danger zone. Besides, smoking cigarette can cause fatty buildup in the main artery of the neck. Smoking also thickens your blood, making it susceptible to form clots. Even secondhand smoke is dangerous to health.

Diabetes

Many of the risk factors are linked to each other, diabetes is one of them. Most people with diabetes have high blood pressure and they are more likely to be obese as well. All these increases the chances of getting stroke. Diabetes itself can cause damage to the blood vessels, which can lead to stroke. The cause of concern is that when you have stroke with high blood glucose, the damage to brain is more severe.

Heart diseases

Heart conditions including abnormal heart rhythm, coronary artery disease, infection or inflammation of the heart, congenital heart defects, and heart failure can also contribute to stroke.

Obesity

Man with a waist size of over 40 inches and woman with a belly size of over 35 are at a higher risk of getting stroke. Lack of physical activity and high cholesterol leads to obesity.

Other possible risk factors

  • Excessive alcohol consumption has been linked to stroke
  • Men are more likely to get stroke as compared to women. But women who gets stroke at a later stage have higher fatalities rate as compared to men
  • Babies in the womb can also get stroke. Typically, as you grow older, your chances increase and it doubles up every decade after the age of 55
  • A person with family history of diabetes and high blood pressure has higher chances of getting stroke. Some strokes occurs as a result of genetic disorder which tends to block blood flow to the brain

How stroke is diagnosed?

The doctor performs a variety of tests and physical examination to determine whether you had a stroke, reason behind the stroke, part of the brain affected or if you had bleeding in the brain. He would also analyze balance, coordination, check blood pressure and listen to your heart.

He would then order you to go through some of the following tests

  • Blood tests for checking sugar level, platelet levels, and infection
  • MRI test that would help understand if there is any damage to the brain tissue and cells
  • CT scan would give a clearer picture showing the area of the brain where bleeding had occurred
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG) checks electrical activity and abnormal rhythm of the heart that may have led to stroke
  • Carotid Ultrasound can reveal fatty deposits in the arteries
  • Cerebral Angiogram gives an in-depth look into the arteries of neck and brain
  • Echocardiogram can reveal sources of clots in the heart that might have traveled to the brain

Prevention - Can we cut the chances of stroke?

If you are well aware of the causes and risk factors of stroke, you must be swift in adopting doctor’s recommendation and embracing healthy lifestyle in order to prevent stroke. 

Fortunately, many prevention strategies for stroke will also work for heart diseases as well. Below are the measures that can be helpful in the long run.

Controlling high blood pressure

It should be the first priority as there are several health hazards of high blood pressure. If you had a stroke earlier, keeping blood pressure under control can prevent subsequent stroke. Exercising regularly, managing stress, limiting the amount of sodium and managing healthy weight will help control blood pressure.

Healthy eating 

According to some latest studies, diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and fish has potential to fight stroke. On the flipside, consuming food with less amount of cholesterol and fat might reduce fatty deposits in the arteries. The doctor will help you chalk out a good diet plan.

Drinking moderate amount of alcohol

Yes you get that right; alcohol can be both a risk factor as well as a protective measure against stroke. Where heavy drinking raises the risk, small to moderate amount of alcohol may reduce blood clotting tendency. Talk to the doctor to know more about this.

Exercising

You don’t have to be a hardcore weightlifter or athlete or on a competitive physical training level to avert stroke. Just modest regular exercise is enough to keep you on the right track. All just matter is consistency rather capacity. Exercise offers tons of benefits such as it helps you lose weight, reduce stress and control diabetes. You can choose anything from jogging, cycling, aerobic, cardio, swimming or walking.

Say no to smoking 

Almost all the smokers would agree that it’s difficult to quit smoking, yet there are measures that really work when it comes to smoking cessation. Keep in mind, smoking has been linked to high blood pressure as well.

So, from strict schedules to nicotine replacement therapy and joining support groups, if you quit smoking, you will be able to cut the chances of stroke by a handsome margin.

Getting regular check-ups 

Stroke is an unpredictable event. No one can forecast when exactly a stroke will occur. But there are some screenings that might help you figure out your chances of getting stroke. Tests such as heart auscultation (listening to the heart), echocardiogram, fat and cholesterol level test, and blood sugar level checks can actually help you and your doctor to determine which action to take.

Life expectancy after stroke

The life expectancy after stroke would depend on the severity of the stroke and prognosis is difficult. But on an average, about half of the people who have had experienced stroke, typically lives less than a year.

Stroke is not an easy concept. But understanding more and more about the condition can help you or your loved one get a better grip and avert chances of getting it in first place. Moreover, preventing a stroke would add about 12 years of life. Remember, ignoring symptoms can become a deadly game of denial.

And the fact that most people are unaware of is that the financial cost of living with stroke is very high. So preventing a stroke saves you a great deal of money as well.

Sources

1. NIH Stroke Scale(n.d.). read more
2. Conditions that increase risk for stroke. (2017, January 17) read more
3. Behaviors that increase risk for stroke. (2017, January 17) 
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