Protect mind body

2nd November 2007 at 00:00
Being a slim, sports-loving non-smoker did not stop Brian Wood from ending up in the stroke unit of his local hospital, reports Jean McLeish.Aberdeen headteacher Brian Wood was the last person anyone expected to suffer a stroke. A slim, sports-loving non-smoker, there was nothing in his lifestyle that made him a likely candidate.

But in February this year, Brian found himself in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary after suffering what he now knows was a mini stroke, which happens when the brain's blood supply is briefly interrupted.

Eight months later, Brian still feels emotional reliving what happened: "The first thing I noticed, I was bumping into doorposts on the left-hand side. I didn't think much of it until later in the week," says the 57-year-old rector of Hazlehead Academy.

Brian then spotted that he was clipping the left-hand kerb driving to work and that his left hand wasn't working as effectively as normal at the computer. The vision in his left eye also wasn't as good as normal.

At the weekend, Brian noticed the car drifting leftwards again. Half-joking, he remarked to his wife that it was almost as if he'd had a stroke. He went on to feel so unwell that he called his GP and was admitted to hospital, where extensive tests confirmed he had suffered a mini stroke.

"It was all driven by high blood pressure," says Brian, who is now back to playing football and on medication for his condition.

He was not allowed to drive for four weeks but felt well enough to return to work after a week's rest. "If there is a message to anybody from this, it is that even though you are perfectly fit, there could be something going on you need to be aware of.

"There are no symptoms until it happens, so having your blood pressure checked regularly is very important, particularly if you are at a delicate age, as I am."

He feels shocked by what happened, but lucky that he suffered no lasting damage.

He's also grateful for the care he received in hospital. "I was a bit of a novelty - the sister said she doesn't often have people walking into this ward. There's no reason this should recur, provided I keep taking the tablets."

One every five minutes

- Every year, an estimated 150,000 people in the UK have a stroke - that's one every five minutes. Most are over 65, but it can happen to anyone, including children and even babies.

- A stroke is the third most common cause of death in Britain. It is also the single most common cause of severe disability, with more than 250,000 people living with disabilities as a result of having a stroke.

- It occurs when the blood supply to a part of the brain is suddenly cut off - either due to thickening of the blood or narrowing of the blood vessels - which damages or kills brain cells. Depending on the affected area, the stroke may result in an inability to move, balance, understand or hear. Typical symptoms range from numbness, weakness or paralysis on one side of the body to blurred vision. Slurred speech and confusion are other common signs.

- If you think someone has had a stroke, check to see if they can smile, raise both arms and speak clearly. If they cannot, then call the emergency services.

Reduce the risks

- Have your blood pressure checked regularly

- Stop smoking - this can halve your risk of a stroke

- Drink sensibly to keep blood pressure down

- Reduce your salt intake

- Exercise more to create a healthy balance of blood fats

- Eat more fibre and less fat for a healthy heart and bloodstream.

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