What places a survivor at greater risk for stroke?
Many risk factors for a stroke are treatable and if caught in time, can prevent this potentially devastating experience from happening.
Common risk factors include:
- Obesity and excess weight
- Excessive alcohol consumption and binge drinking
- Physical inactivity
- Substance abuse – use of illicit drugs such as methamphetamines and cocaine
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Cardiovascular disease, heart infection, abnormal heart rhythm, heart defects, heart valve defects, enlarged heart chambers and heart failure
- Smoking (nicotine and tobacco) or exposure to second-hand smoke
- An unhealthy diet (high in salt, cholesterol, saturated and trans fats)
- Obstructive sleep apnoea
- Family history of heart attack, TIA or stroke
- Age – 55 and older
- Ethnicity (Hispanics, American Indians, Alaska Natives and African-American races are more prone to stroke than other races)
- Gender (males are at higher risk than females, but women tend to experience stroke more often when older in age and more severely – possibly resulting in death)
- Sickle cell disease (anaemia)
What complications can occur?
Complications range from temporary challenges and disabilities to permanent problems.
Some other complications can include:
- Loss of muscle movement and paralysis
- Difficulties with reading and writing
- Pain (central stroke pain or central stroke syndrome), numbness and odd sensations in the body
- Sensitivity to temperature changes
- Difficulties with sense of touch
- Vision impairments
- Anxiety and feelings of grief, sadness or anger
- Loss of bladder or bowel control
Can stroke be prevented?
Many risk factors associated with stroke potentially could have been treated or changed as a means of prevention.
The best ways to prevent risk factors from reaching a danger point include:
- Keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels under control through a balanced and healthy diet, regular exercise (aerobic and cardio), and stress management.
- Quitting bad habits such as smoking, the use of illicit drugs and excessive alcohol consumption.
- Maintaining a healthy weight.
- Controlling diabetes (and other health conditions already diagnosed and being treated).
- Going for regular medical check-ups to manage overall health
Can a migraine feel just like a stroke?
A bad headache that progresses to a migraine often has accompanying symptoms of sensitivity to light, smell, sound and touch, as well as nausea and vomiting. Pain can be intense and throbbing, particularly on one or both sides of the head and around the eyes and temples. A migraine is not a pleasant experience.
A migraine with aura is the form that can be confused with similar symptoms of stroke, particularly a TIA. ‘Aura’ refers to vision disturbances, such as blind spots, flashing lights and jagged lines, that also affect a person’s senses. Aura typically happens before the pain of the headache, and can sometimes also be accompanied by sensations (or lack of) such as numbness or tingling in the limbs and facial area. Some may even experience a ringing in the ears and find it difficult to speak coherently.
What is the difference and how can you tell?
- A stroke: Symptoms develop suddenly (seemingly ‘out of the blue’). When symptoms of stroke are active, a person may lose sight in one eye or have no feeling in in one hand or foot. These are sometimes referred to as ‘negative symptoms’ as they involve loss of something.
- A migraine with aura: Symptoms develop gradually, and progressively become more painful and uncomfortable. During a migraine, symptoms can sometimes be referred to as ‘positive symptoms’ as they are typically additional in nature. These added sensations refer to the vision sensitivities and tingling feeling on the skin.
Is there a distinct connection between migraine with aura and stroke?
The exact link is yet to be determined, but it is generally accepted now amongst medical professionals that those individuals who suffer migraines with aura are at increased risk of stroke – twice as likely as those who have never experienced a migraine before.
One theory is that migraine causes inflammation inside the arteries and this can lead to cell damage in the wall lining of blood vessels. When this happens the risk of blood clotting increases, which in turn primes the body for ischemic stroke types.
Risk of stroke increases if you are a young woman taking oral contraceptive pills (birth control pills), and especially if you smoke as well. Migraine without aura doesn’t appear to raise any alarm bells when it comes to stroke risk but can still potentially increase a person’s chances of other heart-related illnesses or conditions.
A migraine may not necessarily cause a stroke, but it is possible to experience a stroke while having a migraine with aura. If you are prone to migraines, especially those with aura, you should take precaution when medicating this form of headache. Some medications to treat migraine run the risk of potentially narrowing the arteries, which in turn can increase a person’s risk for stroke. Risk is even worse if a person experienced a stroke and medicates a migraine. When in doubt, a person should always talk to their doctor about the best ways to keep their risk at an absolute minimum.
What is a silent stroke and is it different from a TIA?
It is possible to have a stroke and not even know it. These are often known as ‘silent strokes’. Symptoms may not be as easy to recognise or a person may not even remember feeling anything out of the ordinary.
A silent stroke is no less dangerous or life-threatening. Permanent damage to the brain can still happen. Many will have lingering problems with memory and thinking after experiencing stroke. The risk for more severe strokes is higher as well. It is therefore imperative that if a person experiences a silent stroke that they seek immediate medical treatment.
So, is there a way a person can recognise a silent stroke?
It’s more than likely that a medical professional will be able to pick up that a person experienced a silent stroke even before they themselves are aware. A person may notice changes after the fact, such as subtle memory problems or sensing a slight difficulty with moving around. These concerns may be enough to motivate a person to see your doctor, but they won’t necessarily be certain as to why these changes occurred.
A doctor will be able to detect a silent stroke while conducting a brain scan and assessing the images produced for abnormalities and signs of damage.
Are tomatoes good for lowering the risk of stroke?
Studies have shown that a tomato-based diet can considerably lower the risk of stroke. Tomatoes and tomato-based meals contain high levels of lycopene, an antioxidant. Higher levels of this antioxidant in the blood stream can significantly reduce risk by as much as 50%. A tomato-based diet is not a definitive means of prevention, but it does highlight the importance of including a healthy supply of fresh fruits and vegetables into a diet for optimum health. It’s also not going to have as positive an impact if other risk- contributing factors, such as smoking, poor exercise and bad eating habits, are in play. If these are also avoided, a tomato-based diet stands a greater chance of lowering overall risk.
Better still, there are plenty of meal options and a variety of delicious recipe ideas with tomatoes that can be indulged in, with healthy benefits. Combining tomatoes with other heart-friendly foodstuffs is best in order to maximise on the benefits to overall health.
Many stroke survivors may be encouraged to follow the Mediterranean diet which is known for an abundance of positive health benefits. Maintaining the diet, which is rich in vegetables, fruits, legumes and olive oil, is known to help significantly contribute to lowering risk of cancer, obesity, heart disease, and a variety of other major medical conditions. The diet is packed with variety and flavour, so meal times should never be a boring experience. It is best to talk to a nutritionist or dietician who can offer the best advice on healthier choices for the best results possible.