Strokes are something of a talking point at the moment – TV presenter and political pundit Andrew Marr is back at work, albeit part-time, as he continues to recover from his. It was a stroke that ended Margaret Thatcher’s life last month. And, of course, May is Stroke Awareness Month in the UK.
This is a health issue we should all spend a little more time thinking about from a preventative point of view – and not just because of two such high profile cases.
Every year an estimated 150,000 people in the UK have a stroke. That’s one person every five minutes. Most of those affected are aged over 65. But, as Marr has proved, it could happen to any of us, at any time.
A stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks one of your arteries (the tubes that carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body) or blood vessels (the tubes through which the blood moves through the body) breaks, interrupting blood flow to the brain.
Both will cause brain cells to die and the abilities controlled by that area of the brain – perhaps speech, movement or memory – will be lost.
How a stroke patient is affected depends on where the stroke occurs in the brain and how much the brain is damaged. For example, someone who has a small stroke may experience only minor problems such as weakness of an arm or leg. People who have larger strokes may be paralysed on one side or lose their ability to speak.
Risks can be lifestyle related – and therefore controllable – or genetic, due to having a family history of stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA).
Dr Robert Gerber, a consultant cardiologist working with Benenden Health, advises that both can be managed by working with a doctor who can prescribe medication and advise on how to adopt a healthy lifestyle.
“We should all be having an annual once over from 50 onwards,” he says. “A quick check of your blood pressure, cholesterol levels and BMI will flag up whether you’re at a higher risk of stroke and allow you to do something about it before it’s too late.”
Dr Gerber suggests that giving up smoking is the top way to reduce your risk level.
“Then you can look at whether you’re getting enough exercise and eating a healthy, low fat and low salt diet.
“Beyond that, you want to be sure that your blood pressure and cholesterol levels are within safe limits. If you suffer from diabetes, you should ensure that you have it well under control, too.”
Joining Benenden Health gives you access to a wide range of advice and services for every part of life. And for those of you concerned about stroke risks, Benenden Health’s 24/7 GP Advice Line can provide further information to help you to help yourself.