1 KNOW THE SIGNS
A stroke is the damage caused by a clot or a bleed in the brain and is the major cause of serious long-term disability. Prompt diagnosis and treatment means a better outcome.
The Fast test is useful here.
•Face: Can you smile? Is your face lopsided?
•Arms: Can you raise them and keep them there?
•Speech: Is it slurred or hard to understand?
•Time: To call for medical help if you see any of these three signs.
Other symptoms to act on urgently are sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body, sudden blurred or loss of vision, unexplained confusion, a sudden fall and very severe headache.
2 KEEP BLOOD PRESSURE IN CHECK
High blood pressure is an important preventable risk factor. Have it checked by a professional or buy a blood pressure monitor and check it yourself.
Let your doctor know if readings are consistently over 140/90.
Lifestyle changes and, if necessary, medication work for most. Some people's blood pressure remains high despite all conventional treatment; a new technique using ultrasound to zap part of the nerve supply to the kidneys offers hope for the most tricky cases.
3 CHECK YOUR PULSE
An irregular heart rate, or atrial fibrillation (AF), increases the risk of stroke because the heart can throw off small bits of debris when it goes in and out of an irregular rhythm that travel up to the brain and cause a blockage.
AF may revert to normal, regular (sinus) rhythm on its own but tends to recur and it is this fluctuation that is most dangerous.
Some people will experience palpitations, but many will not feel any symptoms. The best way to detect it is to check your pulse; if the rate is consistently irregular, see your GP.
4 ARE YOU DIABETIC?
Undiagnosed and undertreated diabetes is a major risk factor for stroke. You can buy self-test kits, but it is more holistic to get a complete health check if you are aged 40 to 74 or if you think you are at risk.
If you are diagnosed with diabetes, careful management to get your blood glucose levels back to the normal range will reduce your stroke risk. Your blood pressure should be kept under 140/80 and cholesterol below 5mmol/l to keep stroke risk as low as possible.
5 CUT DOWN OR STOP SMOKING
The more you smoke, the greater the stroke risk. So if you cannot quit, at least cut down. If you do manage to quit, your risk of stroke will be that of a never-smoker within five years.
6 CHECK YOUR CHOLESTEROL
High levels of cholesterol in the blood can clog up arteries. If early heart disease or stroke (under the age of 60) runs in your family, you may have a genetic tendency to abnormally high cholesterol levels, even if you lead an impeccably healthy lifestyle.
A one-off blood test will tell you whether you have a problem or not. Again, you can buy a self-test kit or get it done at a clinic.
7 TAKE MINI-STROKES SERIOUSLY
Transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs) cause the same warning signs as a stroke but typically last for about half an hour and resolve completely within 24 hours.
However, 40 per cent of people with a TIA will go on to have a stroke, and the risk is greatest if you are over 70, have high blood pressure or diabetes and symptoms that last longer than 90 minutes.
Treatments for TIAs include blood thinning drugs and careful control of the risk factors.
People are often dismayed that they end up on a cocktail of drugs despite having made a complete recovery from TIA, but it really is worth popping the pills to avoid a stroke.