A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is disturbed in some way. As a result, brain cells are starved of oxygen causing some cells to die and leaving other cells damaged. Most strokes occur when a blood clot blocks one of the arteries (blood vessels) that carries blood to the brain. This type of stroke is called an ischaemic stroke.

Transient ischaemic attack (TIA) is a short-term stroke that lasts for less than 24 hours. This is usually due to a small blood clot blocking a blood vessel and tehn clearing by itself before the damage to brain is irreversible. The oxygen supply to the brain is restored quickly, and symptoms of the stroke disappear completely. A transient stroke needs prompt medical attention as it is a warning of serious risk of a major stroke.

Cerebral thrombosis occurs when a blood clot (thrombus) forms in an artery (blood vessel) supplying blood to the brain. Furred-up blood vessels with fatty patches of atheroma (arteriosclerosis) may make a thrombosis more likely. The clot interrupts the blood supply and brain cells are starved of oxygen.

Cerebral embolism is a blood clot that forms somewhere in the body before travelling through the blood vessels and lodging in the brain. This causes the brain cells to become starved of oxygen. An irregular heartbeat or recent heart attack may make you prone to forming emboli.

Cerebral haemorrhage occurs when a blood vessel bursts inside the brain and bleeds (haemorrhages). With a haemorrhage, extra damage is done to the brain tissue by the blood that seeps into it.

No two strokes are the same and people can be affected in quite different ways. This partly depends on which area of the brain is damaged, because different parts control different abilities such as speaking, memory, swallowing and moving.

Strokes usually occur suddenly. The most common signs of a stroke are weakness, paralysis or numbness of the arm and leg. Speech may be difficult or become difficult to understand. Swallowing may be affected. Until this improves, patients may be fed by a tube or given fluids into a vein (intravenously) to avoid food going into the lungs.

People who have had severe strokes may lose consciousness. Unfortunately, the likelihood of such patients making a good recovery are poor.

In the first few days after a stroke, treatment involves ensuring that the patient is well hydrated and nourished. The next phase of treatment – recovery through rehabilitation – involves a team of health professionals including physiotherapists, speech therapists, occupational therapists, nurses and doctors.

If a stroke is caused by a blood clot, then taking a low-dose aspirin once a day may help make the blood less sticky and less likely to cause clots.

High blood pressure (hypertension) does not cause any symptoms, so everyone over the age of 40 should have an annual blood pressure check.

Smokers have double the risk of stroke as non-smokers. Even secondhand smoke puts nonsmokers at increased risk

Irregular heart beat (atrial fibrillation) is fairly common in old age, and increases the risk of stroke by causing blood clots to form in the heart. Blood clots can be prevented from forming by taking warfarin, a medicine that makes the blood less likely to clot. Warfarin treatment requires careful monitoring with regular blood checks and is a very effective way to reduce the risk of stroke.

Diabetes affects 1 in 20 older people, and can also increase the risk of having a stroke. Good control of diabetes is important and requires attention to diet, regular urine tests or blood tests, and probably some medication.

Nutritional Supplements that could help. (Refer to the individual supplement for cautions in use.)

Supplement/Herb What it does Dosage
Co-Enzyme Q10 Required for the metabolism of fatty acids and energy by the heart muscle. (Beta blockers and statins impede the action of CoQ10). 100mg to 300mg daily
L Carnitine Carnitine is required to transport fatty acids, which are the primary source of energy for the heart muscles, into the cells. 1gm to 3gm daily
Magnesium Magnesium helps to combat some of the effects of stress such as hypertension, blood clotting and vasoconstriction. 200mg to 600mg daily
Vitamin C To keep blood vessels more flexible and reverse arterial blockage when combined with L-Lysine 1gm 3 times a day
Hawthorn Contains powerful anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds. 1gm to 3gm daily
Garlic Garlic and Gingko Biloba work together to decrease the over-coagulation of blood that may contribute to atherosclerosis. 1gm to 5gm daily
Gingko biloba Stops platelets from sticking together too much, improves circulation, also anti-oxidant. 120mg standardised extract


Diet and Lifestyle Factors


Too much alcohol increases the risk of a stroke. The recommended ‘safe’ limits for alcohol consumption are 21 units each week for women and 28 units each week for men. One unit of alcohol is equivalent to a measure of spirits, or a glass of wine, or half a pint of beer. People who drink more than this run a higher risk of stroke, liver disease and dementia. Regular heavy drinking or binge drinking has consistently raised the risk of suffering a stroke by increasing blood pressure and causing heart muscle abnormalities and other effects.

Researchers have found an association between diets low in potassium and increased risk of stroke. Maintaining a high potassium intake is best achieved by eating at least 5 portions of fruits and vegetables daily.

Avoid processed foods such as cakes, biscuits, white bread and include whole grains such as brown rice and granary bread in your diet.

Eating oily fish, a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, may help to help prevent stroke.

Hydrogenated and trans fats should be avoided as it seems that they are the culprit in causing narrowing of the arteries.

High salt intake is associated with both stroke and hypertension, a major risk factor for stroke. Do not add salt to food, there is sufficient salt naturally occurring in food to supply your body’s needs.

Exercise to reduces the risk of stroke, it helps maintain your body weight, regulate blood pressure, and improves glucose tolerance.

Obesity has been associated with an increased risk of stroke in most studies. Excess abdominal fat appears to be more directly linked to increased risk of stroke, compared with fat accumulation in the thighs and buttocks. While losing weight and keeping it off is difficult for most people, normalizing weight with a healthy diet and exercise programme is one of the best ways to reduce the risk of many diseases, including stroke.

Suggested further reading:

  • Understanding stroke
  • What happens in a stroke
  • Risk factors for stroke

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