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By Dr Dulcy Rakumakoe

Chief Executive Officer

These lifestyle factors can increase your risk of getting a stroke

A stroke may be caused by a blocked artery or the leaking or bursting of a blood vessel.

Stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of your brain is interrupted or severely reduced, depriving brain tissue of oxygen and nutrients. Within minutes, brain cells begin to die.

It is a medical emergency that requires prompt treatment to minimise brain damage and potential complications. Seek immediate medical attention if you notice any signs or symptoms of a stroke, even if they seem to fluctuate or disappear.


  • Confusion.
  • Slurred speech and difficulty understanding speech.
  • Paralysis or numbness of the face, arm or leg.
  • One side of your mouth may droop when you try to smile.
  • Trouble with seeing in one or both eyes.
  • A sudden, severe headache, which may be accompanied by vomiting, dizziness or altered consciousness.
  • Stumbling, loss of balance or loss of coordination.


A stroke may be caused by a blocked artery (ischaemic stroke) or the leaking or bursting of a blood vessel (haemorrhagic stroke). Some people may experience only a temporary disruption of blood flow to their brain.

Ischaemic stroke

Ischaemic strokes occur when the arteries to your brain become narrowed or blocked, causing severely reduced blood flow (ischaemia). It could be due to a blood clot forming in one of the arteries.

A clot may be caused by fatty deposits (plaque) that build up in arteries and cause reduced blood flow (atherosclerosis) or other artery conditions. Sometimes a clot happens when a blood clot or other debris forms away from your brain – commonly in your heart – and is swept through your bloodstream to lodge in narrower brain arteries.

Haemorrhagic stroke

These occur when a blood vessel in your brain leaks or ruptures. Brain haemorrhages can result from many conditions that affect your blood vessels, including uncontrolled high blood pressure (hypertension), over-treatment with anticoagulants and weak spots in your blood vessel walls (aneurysms).

An intra-cerebral haemorrhage happens when a blood vessel in the brain bursts and spills into the surrounding brain tissue, damaging brain cells.

High blood pressure, trauma, vascular malformations, use of blood-thinning medications and other conditions may cause an intra-cerebral haemorrhage.

A sub-arachnoid haemorrhage happens when an artery on or near the surface of your brain bursts and spills into the space between the surface of your brain and your skull.

This bleeding is often signalled by a sudden, severe headache.

Transient ischaemic attack

Also known as TIA or a mini-stroke, it is a brief period of symptoms similar to those you’d have in a stroke. A temporary decrease in blood supply to part of your brain causes TIAs, which often last less than five minutes.

It also occurs when a clot or debris blocks blood flow to part of your brain.

A TIA doesn’t leave lasting symptoms because the blockage is temporary. Having a TIA puts you at greater risk of having a full-blown stroke, causing permanent damage later. If you’ve had a TIA, it means there’s likely a partially blocked or narrowed artery leading to your brain or a clot source in the heart.

X- Ray illustration of brain stroke – 3d Illustration. Picture: iStock

Risk factors

General risk factors

  • Personal or family history of stroke, heart attack or TIA.
  • Being age 55 or older.
  • Race – Africans and Asians have a higher risk of stroke.
  • Gender – men have a higher risk of stroke than women.

Lifestyle risk factors

  • Being overweight or obese;
  • Physical inactivity;
  • Heavy or binge drinking; and
  • Use of illicit drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamines.

 Medical risk factors

  • High blood pressure;
  • Cigarette smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke;
  • High cholesterol;
  • Diabetes; and
  • Heart disease.


A stroke can sometimes cause temporary or permanent disabilities, depending on how long the brain lacks blood flow and which part was affected.

Complications may include:

  • Paralysis or loss of muscle movement. You may become paralysed on one side of your body, or lose control of certain muscles, such as those on one side of your face or one arm.
  • Difficulty talking or swallowing. You may have less control over the way the muscles in your mouth and throat move.
  • Memory loss or thinking difficulties, making judgements, reasoning and understanding concepts.
  • Emotional problems. People who’ve had strokes may have more difficulty controlling their emotions, or they may develop depression.
  • Pain. People who have had strokes may have pain, numb[1]ness or other strange sensations in parts of their bodies affected by stroke.
  • Weather. People also may be sensitive to temperature changes, especially extreme cold.
  • Changes in behaviour and selfcare ability. People who have had strokes may become more withdrawn and less social or more impulsive.


Many stroke prevention strategies are the same as strategies to prevent heart disease.

In general, healthy lifestyle recommendations include:

  • Controlling high blood pressure (hypertension). Exercising, managing stress, maintaining a healthy weight, and limiting the amount of salt, sugar and alcohol you eat and drink are all ways to keep high blood pressure in check.
  • Lowering the amount of cholesterol and saturated fat in your diet. Eating less cholesterol and fat, especially saturated fat and trans fats, may reduce the fatty deposits in your arteries.
  • Quitting smoking. Smoking raises the risk of stroke for smokers and non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke.
  •  Controlling diabetes. You can manage diabetes with diet, exercise, weight control and medication.
  •  Maintaining a healthy weight. Being overweight contributes to other stroke risk factors, such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

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