Type A tendencies such as workaholism and impatience increase stroke risk research today suggests. Image courtesy of Ambro / freedigitalphotos.net
Stroke is still regarded – by both patients and medics - as a disease of old people, but a quarter of all stroke happens to people under 65 and more women than men will be affected. In fact, 110 women under 65 will have a stroke each week, according to the Stroke Association.
Chronic stress, prompted by major life events and having a Type-A personality (guilty) can increase stroke risk, reports a study published today in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry. See the research abstract
The team looked at 150 adults with a mean age of 54 admitted to one stroke unit and compared them to 300 randomly selected healthy people of the same age who lived in the same neighbourhood. The risk was four-fold higher in those who had experienced a stressful life event – think house move, divorce or bereavement – in the last year.
In people with Type-A tendencies such as hostility, aggression and a quick temper that risk almost doubled. Other Type-A behaviour includes drive, impatience (hence the word economy in the headline above), perfectionism, workaholism and negativity (ah, that old familiarity bell rings again).
Dr Clare Walton, of The Stroke Association says: ‘It’s a well-known fact that stress is bad for our health and can increase our risk of heart disease. This study shows that too much stress could also increase our risk of stroke.
‘In today’s world many people lead fast-paced, hectic lifestyles. However, it’s important that everyone takes steps to minimise their stress levels by maintaining a healthy, balanced diet, exercising regularly and getting the right amount of sleep. If you are at all concerned about your risk of stroke, you should seek advice from your GP.’
Getting to grips with your Type-A monster
Though the jury is still out, some studies such as this one from Thailand indicate a regular yoga practice can help reduce the high blood pressure that is a leading contributing factor to stroke risk.
Having a blood pressure that is only a little higher than normal levels (normal is 120/80) is linked to a four fifths higher risk of stroke in people aged under 65, according to research published in September last year in the journal Neurology.
‘We don’t know of any specific studies that have looked at whether yoga lowers blood pressure,’ says Dr Walton. ‘However, as it is a gentle form of exercise and is good for relaxation it has the potential to lower peoples’ stress levels and in turn may lower blood pressure’.
Much as I would love to believe it, managing your inner Type-A gremlin and all the inescapable stress isn’t as simple as doing a yoga class. The best stress reduction programme has to look at the body as a whole and work on nutrition, exercise and relaxation – the essential lifestyle trio – to get stress levels down and keep them there.
In The De-Stress Diet, you will find a lifestyle that makes you feel better is also one that makes you look better, slimmer and fitter. I wrote the book with Charlotte Watts, nutritionist, yoga teacher and founder of de-stressyourlife.com between 2010 and 2011. I took up its principles as a knackered, burnt out sofa-holic two years ago have seen a 100 per cent improvement in what I am convinced was the brink of breakdown.
My energy and clarity have come back and because I am no longer dog-tired I’m back at the gym and exercising every other day. I no longer get the super-cravings I used to get because I don’t live off sugar to get through deadlines or days in general. I can even step back, breathe and recognize that quick temper, negativity and perfectionism thing coming (often) to the surface and take some time out before things get ugly.
As I reluctantly creep into my 40s, my two biggest health fears are stroke and memory loss / dementia. Now, as evidence shows stress is implicated as a risk factor in both as tempting as every ‘Lose ten pounds in ten minutes’ new diet is as it graces my desk every other day, I am not going there.
Other major risk factors for stroke include:
Having high cholesterol
Having Irregular heartbeat (also known as Atrial Fibrillation, or AF)
Some less frequent risk factors:
Pregnancy (a condition called Preeclampsia sometimes occurs, and this increases blood pressure)
Sickle Cell disease
Use of the contraceptive Pill
Anyone risk factor is enough to warrant a chat with your doctor
Spot a stroke and act FAST
Symptoms Speech slurring or difficulty finding words or understanding speech, confusion or unsteadiness, severe headache with our without facial weakness. ‘Some strokes predominantly effect people’s ability to communicate so if they turn up to A&E they often get labelled confused, drunk, delirious or demented, because they are unable to express what they want to say,’ explains Professor Tony Rudd, Director for Stroke at Imperial College London. Three simple checks can help you recognise whether you or someone else may be experiencing a stroke and you can remember them through the mnemonic: FAST. This stands for Facial Weakness: Can the person smile? Has their mouth or an eye dropped? Arm Weakness: Can the person raise both arms? Speech Problems: Can the person speak properly and understand what you say? Time to call 999.
What to do According to Dr Rudd, just one symptom from the list above is enough is warrant going to A&E. ‘A quick diagnosis is essential when it comes to stroke,’ says Dr Rudd. ‘Even if someone has one symptom, just dial 999. The average A&E service will not get upset if it is a false alarm. I would much rather be there and not have to treat someone than not be there to treat someone who could have been saved from permanent disability.’ Only one per cent of stroke patients get adequate care, but that is changing, says Dr Rudd, and most primary care trusts are putting into place facilities that can treat people who have stroke. ‘Once a specialist can confirm through a CT scan that it is in fact a stroke, then if we can get people into a place that offers thrombolitis, the clot-busting treatment within three hours, we have a chance of saving brain function. Time is everything when it comes to stroke.’
Help yourself Get your blood pressure checked. ‘Blood pressure is the single most important risk factor in stroke. If yours tests high, take measures to get it under control. This will mean reducing salt intake, losing weight and exercising regularly. But it might also mean taking tablets to bring your blood pressure down that your doctor can prescribe,’ he advises. ‘If everybody’s blood pressure was down to ideal levels we would probably prevent 60-70 per cent of all strokes in this country.’
stroke.org.uk and 0303 3033 100