Stroke Week – a call to take action

Family Health Diary

In this blog I want to promote Stroke Week which was held in the first week of October. Stroke Week leads into the Big NZ Blood Pressure Check.

Why I am so keen for everyone to have their blood pressure checked? Because high blood pressure is a leading cause of stroke. Stroke is the second largest killer in New Zealand; about 9000 New Zealanders have a stroke each year and of these, 2500 people die. Every day about 24 New Zealanders have a stroke. And stroke is the most important cause of adult disability. Many people are disabled from stroke and need significant daily support.

A stroke is also called a brain attack. Having a stroke means that blood flow to part of the brain is suddenly interrupted causing it to stop working. This may lead to brain cells being damaged and so the effects can be devastating and may last a lifetime.

Anyone can suffer a stroke; 75% happen in people over 65. Maori and Pacific Islanders are a high-risk population and men are more likely than women to have a stroke. Women have a higher risk during pregnancy.

High blood pressure is a major cause of strokes. If you have high blood pressure you are up to 7 times more likely to have a stroke than someone with normal or low blood pressure. Many people have high blood pressure but don’t know this. Reducing your blood pressure can significantly reduce your risk of stroke. Get yours checked on 7 October.

Other common risk factors for stroke in New Zealand include:

  • family history
  • heart disease
  • heart rhythm disorders e.g. atrial fibrillation
  • smoking
  • diabetes
  • high blood cholesterol
  • use of oral contraceptives
  • excessive alcohol intake
  • being overweight.

Strokes are usually the result of a combination of risk factors that have been present or developing for a long period of time. Anyone who has two or more known stroke risk factors has a much higher risk of having a stroke.

Some of these risk factors can be managed which will significantly reduce your risk of stroke.

Take action now to find out what your blood pressure is and talk to your doctor about your overall risk of stroke and what you can do to manage this.

Know the Signs of Stroke
As well as managing your own risk of stroke, it’s important also to be able to recognise the signs of a stroke occurring. Recognising when someone is having a stroke means treatment can start as soon as possible. The sooner treatment is started, the greater the chance that brain damage may be reduced and there is a better outcome for the person.

The signs and symptoms of stroke usually come on suddenly. Common first symptoms of stroke include:

  • sudden weakness and/or numbness of face, arm and/or leg especially on one side of the body
  • sudden blurred or loss of vision in one or both eyes
  • sudden difficulty speaking or understanding what others are saying
  • sudden dizziness, loss of balance or difficulty controlling movements.

The type of symptoms experienced will depend on what area of the brain is affected.  Strokes in the left side of the brain affect the right side of the body. A stroke in the right side of the brain results in signs and symptoms on the left side of the body.

The FAST campaign is designed to encourage New Zealanders to learn the key signs of stroke and to act fast by calling 111 immediately if they suspect a stroke.

FAST stands for:

FACE – Is their face drooping on one side? Can they smile?
ARM – Is one arm weak? Can they raise both arms?
SPEECH – Is their speech jumbled or slurred? Can they speak at all?
TIME – Time is critical. Call 111.

Stroke is always a Medical Emergency – Act FAST

Even if the symptoms go away quickly or don’t cause pain you should call 111 immediately.

(Note: FAST covers the main symptoms of stroke. It is not exhaustive. Other symptoms may present during a stroke as well as, or instead of, those listed above. Further information is available from your doctor. If you believe someone is having a stroke for whatever reason – call 111)

For more information go to

For general information about strokes go to


Written by: Jenny Cade

This blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The information contained in the blog and in any linked mate­ri­als, are not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.

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