A stroke occurs when a blood vessel supplying blood, which carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain, becomes occluded or bleeds. The result is that a certain area of the brain, depending on which blood vessel is affected, will begin to die due to a lack of the mentioned essential elements and this will lead to dysfunction of the part of the body controlled by the affected brain matter.
Brain damage due to lack of blood supplying the tissue can begin within a minutes. This is why it is very important to know of the factors that can increase the risk of developing a stroke. It is also very important to know how a stroke presents so that one can act fast to seek out immediate medical attention. Quick treatment can help limit the amount of damage to the brain and it increases the chances of a full recovery.
Signs and Symptoms
Symptoms of a stroke occur rapidly and may lead to issues such as:
- The onset of a sudden and severe headache that is different from previous ones.
- A sudden inability or difficulty to speak.
- Visual changes over the affected side of the brain.
- Weakness of the facial muscles resulting in the appearance of a drooping face affecting the side where the stroke occurred.
- Experiencing a tingling sensation, weakness, or power loss in the arm or leg, especially one side of the body and usually the opposite side of the stroke.
- Problems with balance, coordination, and walking.
Factors that Increase the Risk of a Stroke
A risk factor is defined as anything that can make one more likely to develop a particular health-related problem. There are modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors which mean there are those that one can treat or change and those that cannot be modified.1
Modifiable risk factors include:
- Having high blood pressure, also known as hypertension – increased pressure in the cardiovascular system can lead to damage to the blood vessels which increases the risk of a hemorrhagic stroke. This condition can be controlled with certain medications as well as through dietary intervention by cutting down on high-calorie foods as well as one’s salt intake. The latter leads to fluid retention in the body which raises one’s blood pressure.
- Diabetes – uncontrolled and elevated glucose levels in the bloodstream can lead to damage to the inner lining of the blood vessels. The glucose molecules scratch and irritate the blood vessels leading to chronic inflammation which may result in thickening of the inner wall. This may lead to narrowing of the blood vessels which can cause obstruction of blood flow to the brain. Medication and dietary interventions are suggested to reduce glucose levels in the bloodstream.
- Smoking – the toxins and chemical in tobacco products can cause hardening of the blood vessels causing them to narrow and this increases the chances of obstructed blood flow to the brain.
- High cholesterol – elevated cholesterol levels in the body can deposit inside the inner wall of the blood vessels causing them to enlarge and therefore narrow the area for blood to flow through. Just like smoking and diabetes, elevated cholesterol levels can lead to obstructed blood flow to the brain.
- Atrial fibrillation – this is a condition where the upper two chambers of the heart donot beat in a regular fashion and this results in decreased and inadequate emptying of blood from the heart chambers. This can result in blood remaining behind in the heart which can clot on the heart valves. If these clots break off, they can end up flowing up to the blood vessels of the brain and getting lodged in them thereby cutting off the blood supply to the organ.
- Physical inactivity and being overweight– decreased physical exertion and being obese increases the chances of developing conditions such as hypertension and diabetes which can directly lead to a stroke. Increasing physical activity and adjusting one’s dietary intake can help reduce the risk of developing a stroke by decreasing the chances of developing the mentioned chronic conditions.
Risk factors for a stroke that one cannot change include:
- One’s age – the risk of a stroke increases with advancing age.
- Gender – women have a higher risk of developing a stroke than men.
- Race – Native Americans, African Americans, and Alaskan Natives all have a higher risk of developing a stroke than other races.
- Having a family history of a stroke or oneself having a history of previously developing a stroke.
1. Allen CL1, Bayraktutan U. Risk factors for ischaemic stroke. International Journal of Stroke. 2008 May;3(2):105-16. doi: 10.1111/j.1747-4949.2008.00187.x.