Do South Asians stand a higher risk of Stroke?
Stroke or Brain Attack is caused by blockage of arteries or veins in the brain or by bleeding in the brain. It is essential for everyone to remember FASTER to be able to identify stroke and seek treatment immediately. The term FASTER stands for
A – Arm or Leg weakness
S – Speech disturbance
T – Time – Call 108 immediately
E – Early – Seek immediate treatment
R – Restore blood supply to the brain
Studies have shown that stroke related deaths are higher among people of South Asian descent (India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh). The prevalence of high blood pressure, diabetes, cardiac disease, smoking, obesity, rheumatic heart disease, infective meningitis and postpartum stroke are higher in these countries than elsewhere. As such, it is no surprise that the incidence of stroke is also higher in these countries. Added to this is the fact that the level of awareness among people is very low.
How can I reduce the risk of stroke?
- High blood pressure does not have any symptoms so the only way to check is to have your blood pressure measured regularly. If you are over 40 you should get your blood pressure checked at least once every five years and more often if it is high or you have other health problems. This can be done by your GP, or you can check it yourself with a home testing kit.
- Diabetes is a condition caused by too much sugar (known as glucose) in the blood. Having diabetes almost doubles your risk of stroke. This is because high levels of glucose in the blood can damage your blood vessels, making them harder and narrower and more likely to become blocked. If this happens in a blood vessel leading to or within the brain it could cause a stroke. If you have diabetes, you must have regular check-ups with your GP or at a diabetes clinic to make sure your blood glucose and blood pressure stay at healthy levels.
- Atrial Fibrillation is a type of irregular heartbeat that can cause blood clots to form in the heart. If these clots block the blood supply to your brain, it can lead to a stroke. If you have Atrial Fibrillation you can be treated with blood thinning medication such as warfarin, or drugs called novel oral anticoagulants, which can reduce your risk of stroke by 50–70%
- Cholesterol is a fatty substance and is vital for your body to function properly. Most of the cholesterol in our body is made by the liver, but it can also be absorbed from some of the foods we eat. Too much bad cholesterol in your blood can cause fatty deposits to build up in your arteries and restrict the flow of blood. It also increases the chance of a blood clot developing. High cholesterol has no noticeable symptoms, so you need to have your cholesterol level checked, especially if you are over 40 and have any of the other main risk factors for developing the condition:
- a history of heart disease or high cholesterol in your family
- you are overweight
- you have high blood pressure or diabetes.
Drugs called Statins can help to prevent fatty deposits forming and reduce your risk of stroke
- Smoking doubles your risk of having a stroke and the more you smoke, the greater your risk. Smoking reduces the amount of good cholesterol in your blood and carbon monoxide from cigarette smoke damages artery walls and makes your blood more likely to clot
- Using gutka, qimam/kimam, paan or naswar is also harmful to your health. Studies have shown that people who use them are more likely to die from a stroke than people who do not. Other products like bidi/beedi and shisha also contain tobacco, so if you smoke these you are at risk of the same kinds of diseases as cigarette smokers, including stroke.
- Regularly drinking large amounts of alcohol greatly increases your risk of stroke.
- South Asian people carry more weight around their waist than the rest of the population. The South Asian Health Foundation suggests that South Asian men whose waist measures over 90cm and South Asian women whose waist measures over 80cm should be considered overweight.
- Eating a healthy, balanced diet can help to lower your blood pressure and the amount of cholesterol in your blood. Eat more fruits, vegetables, fibre and healthy protein and cut down on fat, sugar and salt.
- Steaming, boiling and grilling are all healthier than frying, which adds extra fat. Fried foods such as samosas, pakoras, chips or fried bread like bhaturas or puri should be enjoyed as occasional treats, rather than a regular part of your diet.
- Research shows that regular exercise can reduce your risk of stroke by 27%. You should aim to do at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five or more times a week.
Find out more about stroke at www.strokesupport.in