After cancer and a heart attack, a stroke is one of the most common reasons that an insurer will pay a Critical Illness cover claim.
A stroke is a life-threatening medical condition that happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off. Urgent treatment is vital, and the sooner an individual receives treatment, the less damage is likely to happen.
Like many other medical conditions, it is possible to take steps that will reduce the chances of you having a stroke.
Before reading about 10 simple ways that you can cut your risk, here’s how to spot if someone is having a stroke.
How to spot a stroke, and why you should act F-A-S-T
The signs and symptoms that someone is having a stroke vary from person to person, but usually begin suddenly. Symptoms will normally depend on the part of the brain that is affected and the extent of the damage.
You can remember the main stroke symptoms with the word FAST:
- Face – the face may have dropped on one side. Or, the person may not be able to smile, or their mouth or eye may have drooped.
- Arms – the person may not be able to lift both arms and keep them there because of weakness or numbness.
- Speech – the person’s speech may be slurred or garbled, or they may not be able to talk at all despite appearing to be awake. In addition, they may also have problems understanding what you're saying to them.
- Time – it's time to dial 999 immediately if you notice any of these signs or symptoms.
The sooner someone receives treatment for a stroke, the better. So, it’s vital you act FAST.
Next, read about 10 simple ways you can reduce the risk of having a stroke.
Eat a healthy diet
Eating a healthy diet can help you to manage your blood pressure and cholesterol levels, thus reducing your chances of having a stroke.
Experts usually recommend a low-fat, high-fibre diet including plenty of fruit and vegetables. Making sure you eat a balanced diet is also important.
You should also limit the amount of salt you eat to no more than 6g a day (about 1 teaspoonful). This is because too much salt will increase your blood pressure.
Lower your blood pressure
High blood pressure is the biggest contributor to the risk of stroke in both men and women. Monitoring your blood pressure and reducing it if it is elevated is one of the biggest steps you can take to improve your vascular health.
You can do this by:
- Reducing the salt in your diet
- Eat your five portions of fruit and vegetables a day as well as a balanced diet including fish, whole grains, and low-fat dairy
- Avoid foods that are high in saturated fats.
You can also lower your blood pressure through exercise, which brings us to…
Do more exercise
Exercise can help you to lose weight and lower your blood pressure, and it also stands on its own as an independent stroke reducer.
Try to exercise at a moderate intensity at least five days a week. The NHS recommend that you should do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week. This should be spread over 4 to 5 days a week, or every day.
If you’re overweight or obese, it will increase your chances of having a stroke. Even losing as little as 5 kilos can have a real impact on your stroke risk.
The best way to lose weight is to manage your calorie intake and bring your body mass index (BMI) to a healthy level. Your doctor can help you to develop a personal weight loss strategy.
Take prescribed medication
If you have a medical condition that increases your risk of having a stroke, make sure you take the medication your doctor has prescribed. If you have any questions about your medication, go back to your doctor or pharmacist and ask.
Remember to never stop taking your medication without talking to your GP first.
Reduce the amount that you drink
Studies have shown that drinking a little alcohol may actually decrease your risk of stroke. However, once you start drinking more than two drinks a day, your risk goes up very sharply.
So, try and limit the amount of alcohol that you drink. Additionally, think about the type of alcohol you drink. Red wine, for example, contains resveratrol, which is thought to protect the heart and brain.
Treat atrial fibrillation
Atrial fibrillation, sometimes called “Afib”, is a type of irregular heartbeat. It is a condition that, if left untreated, can cause blood clots in the heart that can move to the brain and cause a stroke.
If you experience symptoms such as a shortness of breath or heart palpitations, talk to your doctor. Atrial fibrillation carries almost a fivefold risk of stroke so it’s important you seek treatment.
You may need to take an anticoagulant drug (blood thinner) to reduce your stroke risk from atrial fibrillation. Your doctor will be able to talk to you about the treatment.
If you have high blood sugar then this will damage your blood vessels over time, making clots more likely to form inside them.
So, it’s important to keep your blood sugar under control and manage your diabetes. Doctors will suggest that you use diet, exercise, and medicines to keep your blood sugar within the recommended range.
Give up smoking
Smoking accelerates the formation of blood clots in a couple of different ways. As well as thickening your blood, it also increases the amount of plaque build-up in the arteries.
Along with a healthy diet and regular exercise, giving up smoking is one of the most powerful lifestyle changes you can make that will help you reduce your stroke risk significantly.
Understand the things you can’t control
Although the items above, including improving your diet, doing more exercise, and living a healthy lifestyle can all decrease your risk for stroke, there are some risk factors you cannot control.
Things like age, gender and race all play a role in stroke risk. So, while you may not be able to change those factors, it’s important to understand if you’re more susceptible.
Speak to your doctor if you think you’re in a higher-risk group.
Critical Illness cover can provide financial support if you have a stroke
A stroke can be a serious and life-threatening condition. So, if you or a loved one were to have a stroke, it could mean you have to take a significant period off work or give up working altogether.
Your recuperation may take a long time, or you may have life-altering affects from the stroke that you and your family need to manage.
If you want the peace of mind that you receive financial support in this event, Critical Illness cover can provide this. It will pay out a tax-free lump sum if you have a serious stroke, enabling you to pay off your mortgage or replace your income while you recover.
It will ensure your finances are one less thing to worry about at what is likely to be a stressful and emotional time.
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