Preventing and treating strokes

Stroke is one of the leading causes of death in Australia. Fortunately, there are measures you can take to beat the statistics.

Words: James Baldwin

Strokes can strike anyone. According to a 2010 report from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, stroke is the second most common cause of death in Australia. The National Stroke Foundation reports that one in six Australians will have a stroke in their lifetime and that someone has a stroke every 10 minutes1.

Thankfully, these alarming figures do not have to include you. Not only can you take measures to prevent stroke, but, by understanding its symptoms and signs, you can also help others increase their chances of survival.

There are two main forms of stroke. Ischaemic stroke occurs when an artery becomes blocked and areas of the brain are subsequently starved of oxygen. Haemorrhagic stroke, on the other hand, is caused by blood vessels in the brain rupturing as a result of factors such as head trauma or high blood pressure.

Both types of stroke set off a chain reaction of cell death in surrounding tissue, which leads to the loss of irreplaceable brain cells and, in turn, permanent damage. The causes of ischaemic and haemorrhagic stroke are complex, triggered by anything from heart attacks to blood clots in major arteries and complications with high blood pressure. And it’s not just older people who are affected: children and young adults are also susceptible.

National Stroke Foundation CEO Dr Erin Lalor advises that an ambulance should be called immediately if stroke is suspected. “Prompt treatment can save a life or reduce the degree of disability the person may suffer,” says Dr Lalor. “In some types of stroke, some people may be able to receive a clot-busting treatment that can reverse the effects of the stroke. But this treatment can only be given within 4.5 hours of the onset of symptoms.”

The National Stroke Foundation has answered this need for rapid response by developing FAST, a system to help identify the symptoms of stroke:

Check their FACE. Has their mouth drooped?
Can they lift both ARMS?
Is their SPEECH slurred? Do they understand you?
TIME is critical. If you see any of these signs, call 000 straight away.

According to Dr Lalor, the single biggest modifiable risk factor for stroke is high blood pressure. “Everyone should know their blood pressure and if it is high, take steps to reduce it,” she says. “This can be done on advice from your doctor, who may recommend more exercise, giving up smoking if you smoke and eating less salt and fatty foods and more fresh fruit, vegetables and lean meat.”

Taking such simple measures will not only drastically reduce your risk of suffering from stroke but could also save your life.

References: 1 National Stroke Foundation

Information provided in this article is not medical advice and you should consult with your healthcare practitioner. Australian Unity accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of any of the opinions, advice, representations or information contained in this publication. Readers should rely on their own advice and enquiries in making decisions affecting their own health, wellbeing or interest.