What is Stroke and why should you care about it?
Stroke or brain attack, medically known as Cerebrovascular accident (CVA), occurs when there is an interruption to the supply of blood to the tissues of the brain, causing a disruption in the flow oxygen to that particular area/part, leading to brain damage. Strokes can be classified into three major types, depending on their nature, i.e. ischemic (wherein there is a blockage due to a blood clot in an artery of the brain) or haemorrhagic (wherein there is a rupture of a blood vessel in the brain) and a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA), which is a mini stroke (wherein the blood flow to the brain is stopped for a brief period, usually <5 minutes).
Since the brain is the control center for all bodily functions, when there is an alteration to the brain’s blood supply in a particular, it can have severe and permanent impacts on the body part/ organ/ function controlled by that particular brain area. If the stroke occurs in the left side of the brain (or the left cerebral hemisphere) it can lead to paralysis (or inability to move) the right side of the body, difficulties with speech and language comprehension, visual impairments and memory problems to name a few. If the stroke occurs in the right cerebral hemisphere, the person is likely to exhibit left-sided paralysis, denial of the paralytic side (commonly known as neglect), problems with vision, orientation to positions, depth, space or directions and behavioural changes, to again, name a few. Having a stroke can be a life-altering event, leading to disability, mainly because of its impacts on the physical and cognitive functioning of an individual, which can prevent one from participating in their daily activities, working and being productive, and finally, spending time with their loved ones or doing what they like to.
Globally, at present, there are more than 80 million people living with a stroke and its aftermath. To put things into perspective, that is nearly 3 times the number of people affected by stroke, than the entire population of Australia in 2020!
Spot a stroke – save a life!
Due to the high global and public health burden of stroke, it is absolutely imperative that this disease is treated with priority for prevention. The consequences of stroke can be severely dilapidating – either in the form of disability or death (more than half a million per year). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), states that up to 80% of strokes are preventable with a healthy lifestyle, diet, physical activity and abstinence from smoking or consumption of alcohol.
Apart from primary prevention, it is also important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of stroke. The warning signs for spotting a stroke are commonly abbreviated as F.A.S.T. This stands for –
F – FACE DROOPING
Do you notice a drooping or numbness on one side of the person’s face? A good way to find out can be by asking them to smile.
Is one arm of the person weak or numb? One can check this by asking the person to raise both arms. A downward drift maybe noticed on one side of the body, and this might likely be the majorly affected side.
Is the person presenting with a slurred speech, or inability to speak, or is what they are saying, hard to understand? This can be identified by asking the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “the sky is blue”, and checking whether they are able to repeat it.
TIME TO CALL 9-1-1 (or your region/country’s medical emergency helpline)
Finally, the ‘T’ stands for time to seek help and report a medical emergency – depending on the emergency service helpline numbers for your country.
A further elaborate version of the F.A.S.T signs are the B.E. F.A.S.T signs, which additionally incorporate the ‘B’ and ‘E’ components that stand for –
Is there a sudden loss of balance or coordination in the person? This can be identified easily if they have a sudden fall, or are unable to get up from the floor or sit by themselves.
Is the person suddenly experiencing blurred or double vision or having persistent difficulty with their vision?
May is Stroke Awareness Month!
Anyone with an active account on a social media platform, must have come across at least one post celebrating the month of May as Mental Health Awareness Month. While this is an unprecedented feat towards destigmatising and encouraging the conversation on mental health, most people either forget or are unaware of the fact that May is also celebrated as Stroke Awareness Month. Now that you know about the impact stroke can have on one’s life, do your bit to raise awareness about the disease and look out for the signs all around you!
*This is an introductory blog post about Stroke and discusses the basics of the disease. Future blog posts will delve further into causes, the COVID-19 connection, research and treatment, public health policy and even some exciting interviews with expert clinicians/ researchers working in the field of stroke prevention or management!
More from Stuti Chakraborty here.