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What causes a stroke and how to prevent it?

31 March 2023 | Kuala Lumpur

According to Ministry of Health Malaysia, stroke is defined as a sudden and permanent loss of brain function caused by the interruption of blood supply to the brain. It can be caused by a blood clot, a blood vessel spasm, or an embolism.

Stroke is the third leading cause of death in Malaysia. The risk of a stroke increases with age, with the mean age of stroke patients in our country ranging from 54.5 to 62.6. However, it can still happen to people of any age.

If you or someone you know is at risk for a stroke, it’s important to learn about the risk factors. By understanding the causes of stroke, you can prevent it or reduce the severity of a stroke.

What is a stroke?

A stroke sometimes called a brain attack, occurs when the blood supply to a part of the brain is interrupted. This causes the brain to become starved of oxygen and nutrients. Strokes can cause permanent damage to the brain, including memory loss, paralysis, and even death.

What causes a stroke?

A stroke is caused by a sudden interruption of blood flow to the brain. It is caused by a blockage in the carotid artery that leads to the brain, or by a clot that blocks the flow of blood to the brain. When blood flow is disrupted, the brain can no longer receive oxygen, and the cells begin to die. There are many different types of strokes, and the symptoms vary depending on the type. The symptoms of a stroke can range from mild to severe. If you notice any of these symptoms, you should consult a doctor immediately.

Types of Stroke in Malaysia

There are numerous factors to consider when choosing a health or medical takaful provider. As various types of health and medical takaful are now available, make sure the provider offers a plan that meets your requirements.

  • Ischemic Stroke

    Ischemic stroke makes up the majority of stroke cases. This type of stroke is caused by clots or other particles that form a blockage in the blood vessels that bring blood to the brain.

  • Haemorrhagic Stroke

    Haemorrhagic stroke is a type of stroke that can be a more serious condition and is less common than ischemic strokes.  This condition occurs when a blood vessel in the brain expands to the point of bursting or when a weakened blood vessel begins to leak. It may be caused by uncontrolled high blood pressure and the intake of too much blood thinner medication.

What are the risk factors for a stroke?

Stroke happens when the blood flow to the brain is interrupted or reduced. There are many potential causes of a stroke, including a clot, a brain aneurysm, a tumour, or a blood vessel that ruptures.

Health conditions and factors that may increase the risk of stroke include:

1)   High blood pressure

2)   High cholesterol

3)   Heart disease

4)   Diabetes

5)   Obesity

6)   Sickle cell disease

7)   High saturated fat diet

8)   Sedentary lifestyle

9)   Excessive alcohol

10)Tobacco consumption

11)  Family history

How to prevent a stroke?

Stroke can be caused by several factors including blockages in neck veins, arterial blockages, and more. The best way to prevent a stroke is to always monitor your blood pressure and have regular check-ups. Here are some tips on what you can do to prevent a stroke:

  • Healthy and nutritious diet

    Opt for healthy meals and snacks that contain lots of vegetables and fruits. Lowering your salt intake, saturated fats, trans fats and foods high in cholesterol can help lower blood pressure and prevent strokes.

  • Maintaining a healthy weight and exercise regularly

    Regular physical exercise helps you maintain a healthy weight and allows you to keep your BMI at a normal level. The Ministry of Health recommends that you get at least 30 minutes of exercise daily.

  • Make smart choices, limit alcohol, and stop smoking

    Smoking increases the chances of getting a stroke, so if you do, you should think of putting out that habit for good.

    Excessive alcohol consumption can raise your blood pressure levels, which may lead to other diseases and even stroke.

  • Controlling blood pressure

    This is a condition that does not show symptoms, so it is advisable to regularly have your blood pressure checked. You can get this check done regularly at your doctor’s clinic, a pharmacy or even at home. Changing your lifestyle and choice of diet to suit your condition is also a way to reduce the risk of a stroke.

  • Regular cholesterol checks

    The recommended check for cholesterol is every 5 years through a simple blood test. Controlling your condition with medication and lifestyle changes will lower your chances of getting a stroke.

  • Treating heart diseases, if any

    Following your medical practitioner’s health instructions and surgical recommendations will help reduce your chance of having a stroke.

  • Taking your medications

    Abiding by doctor’s recommended doses of medication to control diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, and other diseases. Do not abruptly stop medications without consulting your doctor.

Symptoms of stroke

Sudden weakness or numbness on your face, hands or legs

Confusion or fogginess that causes difficulties to speak or understand others

Sudden headaches with no known cause

Blurred vision in one or both side of the eyes

Sudden difficulties walking, poor balance or coordination

Difficulties swallowing

What to do in the case of a stroke?

Quick treatment plays a crucial role when it comes to dealing with stroke. Immediate medical attention and treatment can minimise long-term effects of stroke and lower chances of a more serious condition and even death.

Call the emergency line at the first sign of stroke instead of driving or having someone drive you to the emergency room. Getting to the hospital via ambulance allows you to get treated faster. This allows medical officers to get necessary information from you to alert staff back at the hospital.

Importance of critical illness insurance or takaful that covers stroke

As discussed above, time is of the essence when it comes to dealing with stroke. Rehabilitation for stroke within the first few days is crucial and helps with transitioning from hospital to home and possibly prevent another stroke episode.

PubMed.gov reported that stroke is in the top 10 cause for hospitalisation in Malaysia, and top five for diseases with the greatest burden of disease. Having an excellent medical plan enables you to have access to the rehabilitative options needed as stroke recovery time differs from one person to another.

A good critical illness insurance/takaful plan should allow you to focus on your recovery instead of bills, living expenses, and other costs that comes with a critical illness diagnosis.

From as low as RM10.27/month, FWD Big 3 Critical Illness is a critical illness protection plan that covers for you the top three most common critical illness in Malaysia - heart attack, cancer, and stroke. With no medical examinations required, this plan provides you with a lump sum benefit of up to RM250,000 in the event that you are diagnosed. To equip you better, the plan also comes with a RM20,000 death benefit due to all causes and an optional enhancement coverage for 24 neurological and heart conditions.