Expert tips on how you can reduce your risk of having a stroke

Today is Stroke Prevention Day and the Stoke Association is encouraging people to make healthier lifestyle choices. JOANNE SAVAGE reports

Thursday, 13th January 2022, 2:10 pm
Noel Mitchell, 57 from Lurgan is committed to overhauling his lifestyle since suffering a TIA or mini stroke

Some 90% of stroke survivors say they would go back in time and urge their younger selves to make lifestyle changes which may have prevented their stroke, a new UK-wide survey by charity the Stroke Association has revealed.

More than four out of five people surveyed say they hadn’t realised that they were at risk of a stroke which is a serious life-threatening medical condition that happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off. Strokes are a medical emergency and urgent treatment is essential. The sooner a person receives treatment for a stroke, the less damage is likely to happen.

The Stroke Association research further revealed that since experiencing what is also known as a ‘brain storm’, almost nine out of ten survivors have since made lifestyle changes.

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This is important to the two in five people who may go on to have a second stroke if they do not reform their lifestyles in order to reduce the likelihood of another similar medical emergency.

The charity has released the findings to mark Stroke Prevention Day, which is today (Friday January 14), and is urging everyone to make one small change to reduce their own risk of stroke.

Stroke is one of the leading causes of adult disability and the fourth biggest cause of death in the UK.

While some strokes are unavoidable, up to nine out of ten are linked to lifestyle and could be preventable if people are aware of the risks and able to make the necessary and recommended changes.

The campaign is backed by Anna Richardson, host of TV’s Naked Attraction and Changing Rooms, who herself vowed to get healthier after her father Jim had a series of strokes.

Anna said: “Sadly, my dad has had a number of strokes and seeing him have to cope with the effects has definitely made me more aware of my own mortality and given me a real determination to stay as fit and healthy as possible.

“When I found out that up to 90% of strokes can be prevented by making healthier lifestyle choices, it certainly gave me the nudge I needed to overhaul my own lifestyle. The consultant at dad’s hospital even told me I must get healthier.

“Unfortunately, both mine and my brother’s cholesterol is on the high side and knowing that my dad’s high blood pressure was likely one of the biggest factors for his strokes, I am so careful about keeping my blood pressure in check.

“To further help reduce my risk I have a checklist I like to try to stick to, reducing salt in my cooking, limiting alcohol, trying to avoid too much saturated fat, and I aim to do 30 minutes of exercise everyday – be that walking, cycling or maybe some yoga.”

The leading changes survivors would urge their younger selves to make, would be to reduce stress levels, with 46% saying they would definitely retrospectively have done this. Other changes stroke survivors would have made include: monitoring their blood pressure – 37%; exercising more - 32%; eating more healthily - 32%; losing a set amount of weight (for example one stone or ten kg) - 28%; stopping smoking - 25%; drinking less alcohol - 25%; keeping tabs on their cholesterol - 22%; and reducing their salt intake - 17%.

Noel Mitchell, 57, lives in Lurgan in Co Armagh and in June 2021 he had what is known a transient ischemic attack (TIA), also known as a mini or small stroke.

Noel recalls the day it happened: “I just felt so ill and disorientated.

“I was walking like a drunk man and I couldn’t seem to get my balance.

“My left eye wouldn’t focus at all and the headache was awful.

“I decided to lie down and see if I could sleep it off.

“The next day my eyesight had returned to normal and I felt a bit better but I knew things were still not quite right.

“I eventually phoned my GP who arranged for tests at Craigavon Area Hospital just to be on the safe side and low and behold, a CT scan showed that I’d had a stroke.

“Now, six months after that episode, I still live with bad fatigue and problems with my balance. I’m having to sleep a lot more than I ever did.

“I suppose I thought I led quite a healthy lifestyle before and I just expected to recover quickly but that wasn’t the case.

“One thing I’ve taken away from this whole experience is, to make a conscious effort to lower my stress levels.

“I enjoyed my job but there was a lot of pressure and it could be stressful.

“I now feel the need to reassess what’s important in life and I’m determined to watch out for my stress levels and make time to relax and take care of myself.

“For me, getting away to our family caravan is my ideal place for essential rest and relaxation.

“I was never a big drinker but since this happened, I’ve just cut out alcohol completely and make sure I eat a very healthy diet.

“Before all this happened I enjoyed triathlons and running, swimming and canoeing, but all that’s been put on hold. I suppose the worry of having another TIA or mini stroke is always there at the back of my mind.

“I’m trying my best to build up my walking again.

“My main priority now is to get well enough to get back to work, get on top of this fatigue and start doing some of the activities I enjoyed before my stroke.”

As a first step, the Stroke Association wants people to make one small change to reduce their risk of stroke, starting today, Stroke Prevention Day.

Examples include: having your blood pressure, cholesterol and pulse checked regularly; stopping smoking; having a number of alcohol-free days each week; changing your diet to include less salt or switching to a reduced sodium alternative such as LoSalt; eating more fruit and vegetables; getting up and moving regularly during the day, especially if you’re working from home; and joining an online exercise or activity group.

Better still, you might be inspired to take on the charity’s Stride for Stroke challenge – which involves taking one step for each of the 1.3 million stroke survivors in the UK.

Juliet Bouverie OBE, chief executive at the Stroke Association said: “A stroke happens in the brain, the control centre for who we are and what we can do.

It can happen at any time and at any age and can be devastating.

“We know not all strokes are avoidable, but as many as nine out of ten strokes could be prevented as they are linked to things you can change or manage. Many people simply don’t realise they are at risk and that’s something that we as a charity desperately want to put right.

“The effects of a stroke can be life-changing for you and your family, so why not do all you can to avoid one yourself?

“However, we know that it isn’t always easy, so pick something that’s manageable for you.

“Aim to stick with it for an initial three months and if you can do that you’re more likely to form a regular habit.

“The good news from this research is that almost nine out of ten stroke survivors have already taken steps to reduce their risk of having another stroke.”

The charity’s campaign has been launched in partnership with LoSalt®.

Almost a third of stroke survivors said they would exercise more and an ideal way to motivate yourself is to sign up for the Stride for Stroke challenge. Find out about this and the other things you can do at www.stroke.org.uk/stroke-prevention-day. Money raised will help the charity’s work supporting stroke survivors and carers across the UK.

Remember that if someone is experiencing a stroke you should act FAST - as in (F) is their face drooping in either side; (A)rms - can they raise them?; (S)peech - is it affected; (T)ime - call 999 if you see anyone of these signs.