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High blood pressure is a major cause of strokes in the UK. By lowering your blood pressure, you can reduce your risk of developing a stroke. This page will show you how high blood pressure causes strokes, what you can do about it and the signs, symptoms and treatments for stroke.
Act FAST video from the Department of Health
What is a stroke?
Uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause problems by damaging and narrowing the blood vessels in your brain. Over time, this raises the risk of a blood vessel becoming blocked or bursting.
If blood cannot carry energy and oxygen to part of the brain due to a blocked or burst blood vessel, some cells in the brain may be damaged, or even die. This is called a stroke, and it can lead to disability and even death.
Common signs and symptoms of a stroke
The most common signs and symptoms of having a stroke include:
- severe headache
- confusion, feeling unsteady or losing co-ordination
- slurring words or having difficulty understanding what people are saying
- suddenly losing vision or blurred vision
- feeling numb or weak (or being paralysed) on one side of the body.
The Stroke Association recommends using the FAST test to check whether a person has had a stroke or not:
- F - Facial weakness. Can the person smile? Has their mouth or an eye drooped? Has their face fallen on one side?
- A - Arm weakness. Can they raise both arms and keep them there?
- S - Speech problems. Is their speech slurred? Can they understand what you say and can they speak clearly?
- T- Time to call 999. Call 999 if you see any one of these signs.
What are the effects of a stroke?
This depends on how much damage is done to the brain, and on what parts of the brain are affected.
A stroke can often lead to physical disability. It is often possible for people to have had a stroke to recover some of their lost abilities with treatment over time. This is not always the case, however, and some strokes can lead to permanent disability.
Some people who have a stroke can have difficulties with memory and thinking. This is called vascular dementia, and the damage done can be permanent, or can even progress.
Sometimes a person can have what is called a Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA). A TIA is like a temporary stroke, when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted for a short period. TIA symptoms usually clear up within 24 hours, but they should not be ignored. Having a TIA greatly increases your risk of having a more severe stroke in the future.
Can stroke be treated?
There are a number of ways to treat the cause of the stroke and to prevent another one occurring. Some strokes can be treated with medicines to break up clots in the brain, and to stop other clots forming. Others can be treated with surgery to bypass any burst blood vessels.
People who have had a stroke can often make a good recovery with the help of a range of health professionals. Most people's treatment will be carried out by a stroke team. The stroke team may include physiotherapists, speech therapists, dietitians, occupational therapists and psychologists. This team will help the person to regain some or all of the abilities they have lost, and work with them to ensure that they do not have another stroke.
How can I lower my risk of a stroke?
Having high blood pressure is a major risk factor for stroke. If you can lower your blood pressure through lifestyle changes and medicines, you can reduce your risk.
If you have high cholesterol it is very important that this is treated as well. Having high blood pressure and high cholesterol really raises your risk of a stroke, so you should take steps to keep both of them down.
If you smoke, if you have an unhealthy diet, or if you are overweight or not very active, you should think about changing to a more healthy lifestyle. This will help lower your blood pressure, and lower your risk of having a stroke.