Each year, 130,000 people in France alone suffer a cerebrovascular accident (CVA or stroke). The frequency of strokes increases with age, as the arteries get older. This can simply be due to the effects of age but can also be caused by other risk factors, not all of which are outside our control. What are these risk factors?
Professor Xavier Girerd, a cardiologist at the renowned Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris explains: “CVAs are characterised by obstruction (ischemic stroke) or by a tear in a blood vessel in the brain (haemorrhagic stroke)”.
In both cases, blood ceases to reach a part of the brain. But although the outcome may be the same, strokes can be due to a variety of causes.
There are many risk factors for strokes. Professor Girerd naturally mentions the “inescapable” lifestyle factors: smoking, sedentary lifestyle, being overweight or obese.
This “band of four” increases the risk of cardiovascular disease which can in turn lead to a CVA.
Another top three culprits are arterial hypertension (high blood pressure), hypercholesterolemia (high blood cholesterol) and diabetes.
“Arterial hypertension is the number one risk factor”, Professor Girerd points out.
“This is particularly to blame in cases of ischemic CVAs: those caused by obstruction of the small blood vessels”.
When a larger artery is involved however, the cause is most often a cerebral embolism. This may be associated with the formation of atheromatous plaque in the arteries.
It can also result from a heart condition or heart rhythm problems. He goes on to mention atrial fibrillation, which is the principal risk factor for strokes after the age of 60.
In such cases, the electrical activity of the atria of the heart becomes erratic.
The atria contract in an uncoordinated way so that the blood no longer flows normally but stagnates and forms a clot. This clot is then carried through the circulatory blood system and reaches the brain, where it causes a stroke.