SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- A stroke is when blood can’t get to all parts of your brain. Blood carries oxygen and nutrients for your brain cells. Your brain can be injured if blood can’t get through.
- The F.A.S.T. test is an easy way to remember the signs of stroke. If you see any of the signs, call triple zero (000) straight away. Even if you aren’t sure, or the signs only last for a few minutes, call triple zero (000).
- More than 80% of strokes can be prevented. You can take action to lower your risk of stroke.
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A stroke interrupts blood flow to an area of the brain. Strokes can be fatal, but the risk can be reduced. Many stroke risk factors are lifestyle related, so everyone has the power to reduce their risk of having a stroke.
More than 80% of strokes can be prevented. You can take action to lower your risk of stroke.
Signs of stroke
The F.A.S.T test is an easy way to remember the most common signs of stroke.
- Face. Check their face. Has their mouth drooped?
- Arms. Can they lift both arms?
- Speech. Is their speech slurred? Do they understand you?
- Time is critical. If you see any of these signs call triple zero (000) straight away.
There can be other signs too:
- Your face, arm or leg can be numb, clumsy, weak, or paralysed. This can be on one or both sides of your body
- Feeling dizzy, losing balance, or falling over for no reason
- Losing your vision. This can be in one or both eyes
- Headache, usually severe and sudden
- Trouble swallowing
- Nausea and vomiting.
If you see any of the signs of stroke, call triple zero (000) straight away. Even if you aren’t sure, or the signs only last for a few minutes, call triple zero (000).
Lower your risk of stroke
A stroke risk factor increases your risk of having a stroke.
There are some stroke risk factors that you cannot do anything about – being older, being male, a family history or already having had a stroke.
But everyone can take action to lower their risk:
- Have a health check with your general practitioner (GP).
- Be active, eat well, be a healthy weight, avoid alcohol and don’t smoke.
Have a health check with your GP
Your risk goes up as you get older, so a regular health check is especially important once you turn 45. If you are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, you need a regular health check once you turn 30.
Ask your GP for a Heart Health Check. Your GP will assess your risk of having a stroke or heart attack. They’ll talk with you about your risk factors and what you need to do to lower your risk.
Your GP can help you make healthy choices part of your daily life. They will let you know if you need medication to lower your risk of stroke.
Get your blood pressure checked
High blood pressure (hypertension) is the biggest risk factor for stroke. High blood pressure can lead to blocked arteries. It can also make them weaker, causing them to break which can cause a stroke.
Normal blood pressure is around 120/80. If your blood pressure is regularly over 140/90, you have high blood pressure.
The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to get it checked by a GP, nurse or pharmacist.
Get your cholesterol checked
Cholesterol is a type of fat in the blood. High cholesterol can lead to blocked arteries. This can cause a stroke.
High total cholesterol is 5.5 mmol/L or more. However, a good level for your cholesterol depends on your other risk factors. Your GP will tell you how to maintain healthy cholesterol levels.
Check for an irregular pulse
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a heart condition. Your heart beats fast and out of rhythm. AF can lead to blocked arteries. This can cause a stroke.
If you have AF, you may have a pounding or fluttering heartbeat. This is also called having heart palpitations. Some people experience symptoms such as an irregular pulse, shortness of breath, chest pain, tiredness, dizziness, or feeling faint or lightheaded. Some people don’t notice any symptoms at all.
A doctor can check your pulse. If it feels irregular, they will organise more tests.
Check for type 2 diabetes
If left undiagnosed or untreated, diabetes can lead to blocked arteries. This can cause a stroke. If you have diabetes, check your blood sugar when you’re supposed to. Talk with your GP about medication and healthy choices to help manage your diabetes.
Not doing enough physical activity is the second biggest risk factor for stroke. It can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol. It can also lead to being overweight. These things increase your risk of stroke.
Aim to be active for 30 minutes most days. You need to increase your heart rate, feel a little warm and get a bit out of breath. You also need to do activities that build muscle strength.
Your 30 minutes can be any kind of exercise or activity. You can break it up into short sessions. Get into activities you enjoy. Invite friends and family to join in.
Talk to your GP before starting an exercise program. Your GP can refer you to a physiotherapist or exercise physiologist. They can help you get active. Visit health.gov.au/health-topics/physical-activity-and-exercise
Eating unhealthy food can lead to high blood pressure and cholesterol. It can also lead to being overweight. These things increase your risk of stroke.
The key to eating well is to enjoy a variety of nutritious foods from each of the Five Food Groups:
- Vegetables, legumes, beans
- Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and high fibre
- Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds
- Milk, yoghurt, cheese or alternatives, mostly reduced fat.
Drink plenty of water. Cut down the amount of salt, sugar and saturated fat you eat.
Eat more of the healthy foods you enjoy. Cook at home, and share mealtimes with family and friends if you can.
Your GP can refer you to a dietitian. A dietitian can help you with healthy eating. Visit eatforhealth.gov.au
Be a healthy weight
Being overweight can lead to high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. These things can increase your risk of stroke.
Your doctor can give you advice on what a healthy weight is for you. You can get there with healthy eating and being more active.
Start by setting a small goal and making small changes that will get you there. If you are overweight, losing just 5% of your body weight can improve your health.
Your GP can refer you to a dietitian and a physiotherapist. They can help you get to a healthy weight.
Alcohol can lead to high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation. It can contribute to being overweight and make diabetes harder to control. All these things increase your risk of stroke.
The Australian Guidelines say healthy men and women should have no more than 10 standard drinks a week, and no more than 4 standard drinks on any one day.
The Guidelines are for healthy people. Talk with your doctor about alcohol and your risk of stroke.
Check the drink label to see how many standard drinks you are having. The less you drink, the lower your risk of harm from alcohol.
Your GP can tell you about help to cut down or stop drinking alcohol. Visit nhmrc.gov.au/health-advice/alcohol
Smoking can lead to high blood pressure. It narrows and hardens your arteries and increases the stickiness of blood. All these things increase your risk of stroke.
Breathing in other people’s smoke also increases your risk of stroke. Only 100% smoke-free environments can protect you from the effects of passive smoking.
It’s never too late to stop smoking. Once you stop, your risk of stroke drops immediately.
It can be hard to quit smoking so make sure you get the help you need. Visit Quit for help to quit smoking.
Where to get help
If you see any of the signs of stroke, call triple zero (000) immediately. Even if you aren’t sure, or the signs go away, call triple zero (000).
- Your GP (doctor).
- StrokeLine. StrokeLine’s allied health professionals provide advice on stroke prevention, treatment and recovery. StrokeLine is a free and confidential service. Call Tel. 1800 787 653 Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, Australian Eastern Standard Time. Visit strokefoundation.org.au
- Quitline Tel. 13 78 48.
- What is a stroke? National Stroke Foundation, Australia.
- Prevent stroke, National Stroke Foundation, Australia.