How does a stroke occur?
A stroke occurs when the blood supply to a part of the brain is interrupted. This interruption deprives the brain cells of blood (and oxygen), thus the brain cell dies. It can either be due to a blocked blood vessel (ischaemic stroke) or due to a burst blood vessel in the brain (haemorrhagic stroke). Ischaemic stroke happens more often in at least 4 out of 5 patients.

How dangerous is a stroke?
A stroke is a life-threatening medical condition which requires urgent medical attention. Worldwide, 15 million people suffer from stroke annually. Of this, 5 million are dead, while another 5 million are left with permanent disabilities. It has always been in the top 5 leading causes of death in Malaysia since the 2000’s.

What are some factors that causes stroke?
Factors that increase the risk of having a stroke can be divided into 3 groups:

1. Stroke factors that people cannot control
– Gender: Stroke is more common in men
– Age: Stroke risk increases as you get older
– Family history of stroke

2. Medical diseases that increases the risk of having stroke
– Atrial fibrillation: irregular heart beat
– Transient ischaemic attack: temporary blockage of a blood supply to the brain
– Diabetes

3. Lifestyle risk factors that people can control
– High blood pressure (hypertension): high blood pressure causes damage to the blood vessel, which will in turn cause stroke. Lifestyle changes helps in lowering blood pressure, thereby decreasing chances of developing a stroke
– High cholesterol: contributes to blood vessel disease, leading to a stroke
– Smoking: either active smoking or passive smoking, it is a major risk factor to stroke
– Obesity: this leads to hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes, cancer and heart diseases
– Alcohol : heavy drinking (more than 3 units / day) increases the risk of stroke

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How do you repair lasting changes that occur after a stroke? Can the patient recover from a stroke? What is the recovery process like?
As the disease causing the stroke is under control, the brain will slowly change and adapt to the loss of that part of the brain. This adaptation or neural plasticity, is what allows patients to regain function like arm movements after a stroke. However, this process is slow and unpredictable. Comprehensive Stroke Rehabilitation helps in recovery, but how much one patient can actually recover is still unknown. Some patients take years to recover to full independence, while many others will be dependant and needing help from family members for daily activities.

In terms of brain health, what steps are taken to improve it after a stroke?
Comprehensive Stroke Rehabilitation at a Stroke Centre would certainly help as they would have frequent assessment and directed therapy specific to the affected brain. Repetitive activities and training would also help in recovery. Family interaction and support also helps in the recovery process.

Why is it important for people to be aware of stroke occurrence?
It is a major worldwide disease, affecting those who are still in the productive age group. And the best treatment of stroke is always via prevention. Lifestyle modification is of utmost importance, especially now that Malaysian obesity rate has increased to 45.3%.