Thursday, 29 October 2015

It's World Stroke Day!

So it's World Stroke Day today and I wanted to write a blog post on the many aspects of stroke itself. World Stroke Day (i'll call it WSD) is a day to raise important awareness of stroke and to help prevent it further.
WSD was devised in 2006 and since then has highlighted the rates of stroke worldwide, has raised awareness and has called for better support for stroke survivors and carers.

Firstly, I'll share with you some key statistics about stroke:

Stroke occurs approximately 152,000 times a year in the UK; that is one every 3 minutes 27 seconds.

There are around 1.2 million stroke survivors in the UK.

Stroke is the fourth single largest cause of death in the UK and second in the world.

By the age of 75, 1 in 5 women and 1 in 6 men will have a stroke.  

Stroke kills twice as many women as breast cancer and more men than prostate and testicular cancer combined a year. 

Stroke is the largest cause of complex disability – half of all stroke survivors have a disability. 

For every cancer patient living in the UK, £241 is spent each year on medical research, compared with just £48 a year for every stroke patient. 

OK, let's start at the very beginning, what is a stroke exactly?
You'd be surprised at how many people still don't know exactly what a stroke is so don't understand the consequences fully.
Apart from being one of the most devastating illnesses to ever strike, it is known as a 'brain attack'. There are three different types of stroke; ischaemic, haemorrhagic and transcient ischaemic attack (or TIA).
Ischaemic happens when the blood supply is cut off to the brain. This 'cutting off' is caused by a blockage, so a clot.
Hemorrhagic happens when an artery in the brain bursts or breaks, causing a bleed.
And lastly, TIAs are caused by a blockage again, but it is only temporary. You will get the symptoms of a stroke so drooping face, weakness of limbs down one side etc but it will last 24 hours or less.

So, what can put you more at risk of having a stroke?
Well, there is different categories, if you like.
We have the lifestyle factors: obesity, smoking, drinking excessive amounts of alcohol and diet. Being overweight and not hitting the gym at least once a week is crazy to me. I sound like a fitness freak.
Before my stroke I hated it, seeing all the skinny, pretty girls running on the treadmill, sweat not dripping off them in a disgusting way. I get it. But now I honestly can't think of a time when I've hated going. On the one hand it's helping me stay fit, healthy and in control of my weight but then it's helping me get stronger and stronger after my stroke.

Then we have the medical factors: high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and atrial fibrillation. One that hardly is ever mentioned is hole in the heart. It is not a common factor, in fact you can live your life without ever knowing you have one. But when things go wrong, a hole in the heart is investigated immediately and is scrutinised as the likely cause of stroke. It is said around 25% of people have one.

There are factors that you can't change: your age (said to be more common after the age of 55 as our arteries naturally get narrower, but we all know well, SHOULD know that strokes happen at ANY age! 1 in 4 happen below the age of 65), your family history (if a grandparent has had a stroke then your risk increases too) and your genetics (so Sickle Cell Disease increases the risk and so does blood clotting disorders).

Then we have the risk factors for women: hormone replacement therapy (HRT), childbirth and the contraceptive pill.
Yes, these risks are low but at the end of the day, it's still a risk!
Things like these are 'hidden factors'- with HRT and pregnancy/childbirth, there is a imbalance of hormones and an increase in oestrogen levels can make your blood more likely to clot.
The contraceptive pill is even more 'hidden', women are prescribed it nearly all the time, no questions asked. I was one of them, I know. Over 80% of American women are taking it. It's less for the UK, around 20% of 16-49 year olds take it.
I know lots of women around my age that were taking the contraceptive pill at the exact time of their stroke.
If you take it now but do not really have to be on it, I say get rid of it. You may say 'well I've been on it for years and haven't had problems'. Just because nothing bad has happened to you and may never will, it doesn't mean that it isn't damaging your body.

Up to 80% of all strokes could be prevented. 

So, you're having a stroke, or symptoms like stroke but are unsure what to do?

F(ACIAL WEAKNESS): Has their face dropped on one side? Can they smile?
A(RM WEAKNESS): Can they raise both arms and keep them there?
S(PEECH PROBLEMS): Can they speak clearly? Can they understand you?
T(IME TO CALL 999): If you see ANY of these symptoms, you MUST call 999.

We all know that by getting to hospital sooner means that people suffering a stroke have a greater chance of being thrombolised and therefore have a greater chance of recovery. The likelihood of long-term and complex disability is reduced.
Remember, it's not just a 'funny turn'.  Even if symptoms pass, get checked! 1 in 12 people will suffer a stroke within a week of having a TIA.
So if you've read this or have learnt more about stroke from elsewhere, please do something to help stroke charities, such as The Stroke Association. You can donate, take part in a fundraising event or just do something silly to raise money!
Stroke is a major illness. Don't ignore it because you think 'oh it won't happen to me'- it can.

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