Stroke – Would You Know What to Do?

The sooner a person receives treatment for a stroke, the less damage is likely to happen. Always err on the side of caution and seek emergency medical advice if you suspect that you or someone you know might be having a stroke.


What Causes a Stroke?

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel, which is carrying oxygen and nutrients to an area of the brain bursts or is blocked by a clot. This can damage or destroy brain cells which will affect abilities controlled by that area of the brain such as memory and muscle control. A stroke is a medical emergency. Therefore, recognising the symptoms and accessing treatment immediately can be crucial.

What Are the Symptoms of a Stroke?

How a person is affected by their stroke depends on where the stroke occurs in the brain and how much of the brain is damaged. However, there are key factors that can help to identify when a stroke may be occurring. These include:

  • Numbness, weakness, or paralysis on one side of the body
  • Slurred speech, difficulty thinking of words or understanding other people
  • Confusion or memory loss
  • Sudden blurred vision or sight loss
  • Being unsteady on your feet
  • Severe headache


Act F>A>S>T

Face – Can the person smile? Has their Mouth or eye drooped?

Arm – Can the person raise both arms?

Speech – Can the person speak clearly and understand what you say?

Time – Call 999 or 112 for an ambulance immediately if you spot any one of these signs

DON’T wait for the symptoms to go away

KNOW your Eircode so that the ambulance can reach you as fast as possible

Types of Stroke

Ischemic Stroke (blocked artery)

Over 80% of strokes are caused by a blockage of an artery supplying blood to the brain. This is known as an ischaemic stroke. Ischemic stroke can be broken into two main types: thrombotic and embolic

A thrombotic stroke occurs when diseased or damaged cerebral arteries become blocked by the formation of a blood clot within the brain.

An embolic stroke is also caused by a clot within an artery, but in this case the clot (or emboli) forms somewhere other than in the brain itself. Often from the heart, these emboli will travel in the bloodstream until they become lodged and cannot travel any farther. This naturally restricts the flow of blood to the brain and results in near-immediate physical and neurological deficits.

Ministroke/Transient ischemic attack (TIA)

TIA is a temporary period of symptoms  similar to those you’d have in a stroke. A temporary decrease in blood supply to part of your brain causes TIAs, which may last as little as five minutes.

TIAs are caused when a clot or debris blocks blood flow to part of your nervous system – but there is no permanent tissue damage and no lasting symptoms.

Having TIA puts you at greater risk of have a stroke. If you’ve had a TIA, it means there’s likely a partially blocked or narrowed artery leading to your brain or a clot source in the heart.

Always seek emergency care if you fear that you might be having a TIA,  even if your symptoms seem to clear up.

 Hemorrhagic Stroke (destroyed artery)

Up to 20% of strokes are caused by a bleed into the brain from a burst blood vessel. This is called a cerebral haemorrhage and causes the more serious kind of stroke. It is often not obvious why someone should have suffered a stroke. Even though many people believe it to be a factor, stress is not a cause of stroke.

How Can I Prevent Having a Stroke?

Many factors can increase your stroke risk. There are steps that you can take in order to limit your risk of stroke. These include:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Keeping physically active
  • Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all
  • Avoid the use of illicit drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamines
  • Don’t smoke
  • Controlling high blood pressure
  • Controlling diabetes


If you would like to avail of expert advice around stroke prevention or anything detailed in this article, drop into your local Haven Pharmacy where we have expert community Pharmacists ready to help you to improve your health and look after yourself.

Blood Pressure – what you need to know

Blood pressure refers to the amount of work that our heart has to do to pump blood around the body. It measures how strongly blood presses against the walls of your arteries (large blood vessels) during this process. If this pressure is too high it puts a strain on your arteries and your heart, which makes it more likely that you will suffer a heart attack, a stroke or kidney disease.

Circulatory system disease is the number one cause of death in Ireland. Treatment and detection starts with you.

Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (which is written as mmHg) and it is recorded as two figures:

  1. Systolic pressure: the pressure of the blood when your heart beats to pump blood out
  2. Diastolic pressure: the pressure of the blood when your heart rests in between beats

The normal level of blood pressure is usually about 120 (systolic) over 80 (diastolic) written as 120/80mmHg.

“If you are over 30, it’s best to have your blood pressure checked every year”

High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure (medically known as hypertension) is when blood pressure readings taken on separate occasions consistently show your blood pressure to be 140/90mmHg or higher. If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, it means your blood pressure is consistently higher than it should be. Thankfully, there are several ways to help reduce it which we will talk you through below.

Causes and Symptoms of High Blood Pressure

There is often no single cause of high blood pressure and therefore it is really important to check your blood pressure readings regularly. A number of factors can combine to raise blood pressure, and high blood pressure tends to run in families. It is not a disease of a nervous, anxious person or someone with a stressful lifestyle – though these factors can sometimes impact a reading.

In some rare cases, where a person has very high blood pressure, they can experience symptoms including:

  • A persistent headache
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Shortness of breath

Measuring Blood Pressure During Pregnancy

If you are pregnant, you should have your blood pressure checked on a regular basis, even if it is not high. Watching your blood pressure while you are pregnant reduces your risk of developing pregnancy-induced hypertension. This can lead to a serious condition called pre-eclampsia which harms the placenta (the organ that links the baby’s blood supply to the mother’s).

Haven pharmacies offer blood pressure tests which only take a couple of minutes. We are always on hand to offer advice and measure your blood pressure.

Low Blood Pressure

Low blood pressure is medically known as hypotension. On its own, low blood pressure does not always cause symptoms. If you have low blood pressure, and you do not have any symptoms, you do not require treatment.

Causes and Symptoms of Low Blood Pressure

Low blood pressure within certain parameters is considered good. However, GPs will look out for symptoms of low blood pressure that may cause concern. These symptoms which can occur when standing up from a seated or lying position or after eating include:

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Nausea
  • Fainting
  • Dehydration and unusual thirst
  • Lack of concentration
  • Blurred vision
  • Rapid, shallow breathing
  • Fatigue

Measuring Your Blood Pressure

Blood pressure checks are available in your local Haven pharmacy, GPs and health clinics. If you have one high reading, it does not necessarily mean that you have high blood pressure. Blood pressure can fluctuate throughout the day and night. Therefore, you will need to measure your blood pressure on numerous occasions over a certain period of time. You can purchase a home testing monitor from your Haven pharmacy which will allow you to take readings when you are relaxed throughout the day and night.

“The more blood pressure readings you have, the more accurate your diagnosis will be, particularly as blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day and night”


Treating Blood Pressure

There are a few key steps that we can all do to prevent high blood pressure:

  1. Know your blood pressure
  2. Aim for a healthy weight
  3. Reduce salt intake and processed food
  4. Eat more fruit and vegetables
  5. Drink less alcohol and caffeine rich drinks such as tea, coffee and soft drinks
  6. Increase exercise
  7. Relaxation therapies such as yoga, meditation and stress management
  8. Don’t smoke – smoking greatly increases your risk of heart and lung disease

Medication is also available for high blood pressure, this should be discussed with your GP.

How Haven Can Help

At Haven pharmacy, we are dedicated to improve the health and well-being of people within our local communities. We are independent with shared goals for the future of Ireland’s health. Drop into your local Haven to discuss blood pressure or to pick up a home blood pressure monitor.


Sources: Irish Heart Foundation, Health Service Executive Ireland


What is Osteoporosis?

Osteoporosis occurs when more bone is naturally lost than replaced. This results in bones becoming more fragile and therefore breaks more easily. Osteoporosis is when bones are more porous and it affects 1 in 5 men and 1 in 2 women.

Signs & Symptoms

Often there are no signs or symptoms prior to a person having a broken bone. A DXA scan of your spine and hips is the best method for diagnosing osteoporosis and is highly recommended if you are at risk.

Risk Factors

  • Menopause
  • Genetics
  • Steroids
  • Most treatments for cancer
  • Coeliac disease
  • Anorexia/bulimia
  • Many medications such as Warfarin and thyroxine
  • Low calcium and vitamin intake
  • Physiological or psychological stress
  • Smoking and excess alcohol


Ensure to take the daily-recommended amount of Calcium and Vitamin D3, essential nutrients for both the prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. Calcium is found in foods such as dairy products, bread, nuts, oily fish, and dark green vegetables. Vitamin D3 can be gained from 10-15 minutes of sun exposure a day or foods such as oily fish, dairy products, and foods fortified with Vitamin D.

It is essential that calcium is taken in conjunction with Vitamin D3 as vitamin D3 is required to absorb calcium.

Weight-bearing exercise is essential at all ages to maintain and increase bone density and strength. Examples of weight bearing activities include dancing, walking, running, soccer, tennis, soccer, stair climbing, and weight training.

Ask Your Haven Pharmacist

There are a range of treatments available from your Haven Pharmacy to help with bone health. Please speak to one of our trained advisers or ask your Haven Pharmacist if you would like advice on which treatment is best suited to your needs.


Cervical Cancer Prevention – Get the Facts

As it’s Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, we try to explain in simple terms a little more about cervical cancer, the symptoms and causes. From the outset, it’s important to emphasise that there is no 100% effective method to prevent cervical cancer and therefore it is crucial that women continue to have regular cervical smear tests.

Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that develops in a woman’s cervix (the entrance to the womb from the vagina). Cancer of the cervix often has no symptoms in its early stages. Therefore it is vital that we educate ourselves and our children around prevention, vaccinations and testing.


As noted, cancer of the cervix often has no symptoms in its early stages. If you do have symptoms, the most common is unusual vaginal bleeding, which can occur after sex, in between periods or after the menopause. Abnormal bleeding doesn’t mean that you definitely have cervical cancer, but it should be investigated by your GP as soon as possible. If your GP thinks you might have cervical cancer, you should be referred to see a specialist within two weeks.

What Causes Cervical Cancer?

Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV is a very common virus that can be passed on through any type of sexual contact with a man or a woman. There are more than 100 different types of HPV, many of which are harmless. However, some types of HPV can cause abnormal changes to the cells of the cervix, which can eventually lead to cervical cancer.

Two strains of the HPV virus (HPV 16 and HPV 18) are known to be responsible for 70% of all cases of cervical cancer. These types of HPV infection don’t have any symptoms, so many women won’t realise they have the infection. However, it’s important to be aware that these infections are relatively common and most women who have them don’t develop cervical cancer.

Can I Prevent Cervical Cancer?

There are many ways in which you can lessen your risk of contracting cervical cancer, however, taking these precautions cannot fully protect you and it is pivotal that you continue to get cervical checks on a regular basis once you have become sexually active.

Most cases of cervical cancer are linked to an infection with certain types of human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV can be spread through unprotected sex, so using a condom can reduce your risk of developing the infection. However, the virus isn’t just passed on through penetrative sex – it can be transmitted during other types of sexual contact, such as skin-to-skin contact between genital areas and by using sex toys.

Over the course of many years, the cells lining the surface of the cervix undergo a series of changes. In rare cases, these precancerous cells can become cancerous. However, cell changes in the cervix can be detected at a very early stage and treatment can reduce the risk of cervical cancer developing. An abnormal cervical screening test doesn’t mean you definitely have cancer. Most abnormal results are caused by an infection or the presence of treatable precancerous cells, rather than cancer itself.

The HPV vaccine works in the same way as other vaccines. The body reacts by making special proteins, called antibodies, which help the immune system fight and clear the HPV infection so it can’t cause cancer. The vaccine works best for girls and boys who have not been exposed to the virus through sexual activity although HPV vaccine can also be given to adults up to 26 years of age. In Ireland, the HPV vaccine is offered free of charge to all girls in their 1st year of second level school. The vaccine is given through injection into the upper part of the arm in two doses, six months apart, via a school-based programme. However, in specific instances some girls will be invited to special HSE clinics for their vaccines.

The vaccine is recommended by

  • the World Health Organization
  • the International Federation of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
  • the National Immunisation Advisory Committee

You can reduce your chances of getting cervical cancer by not smoking. People who smoke are less able to get rid of the HPV infection from the body, which can develop into cancer. For more information and advice on giving up smoking, see our blog: Never Quit Quitting

If I Have Had the HPV Vaccine, Do I Still Need to Get Tested?

YES! The vaccine does not protect you against all types of HPV. The vaccine targets the main HPV types. If you have been exposed to the virus already, the vaccine may not protect you. It reduces your risk of cervical cancer but does not remove it. So, it is important that all women, aged 25 to 60, continue to have regular cervical smear tests.

Can the Vaccine Be Given to Boys?

Yes – HPV vaccines have also been shown to be effective in preventing infection in men. This is not recommended as part of the school programme in Ireland at present. If you wish to get your son vaccinated you will need to pay for the vaccine and the administration of the vaccine privately with your doctor.

The vaccination of teenage boys increases the preventative effects of the vaccine against other cancers, such as anal cancer, where HPV infection can be associated and also prevents HPV-vaccinated boys passing the infection to unvaccinated partners.

Getting Tested

In Ireland, the Government launched a national cervical screening programme in 2008 called CervicalCheck. This programme provides free smear tests to women aged 25-60. For more details about this service in your area, call 1800 45 45 55, visit or contact your local GP.

Sources of Information: The Irish Cancer Society and The NHS UK

For more information, you can contact the Irish Cancer Society on Freephone 1800 200 700 or visit

Cystitis and UTI’s

Cystitis is a common lower urinary tract infection (UTI). It is inflammation of the bladder or urethra and is more common in women than men. It is usually mild and resolves within 5 to 7 days without treatment with antibiotics. Cystitis can be extremely painful and uncomfortable, therefore our pharmacists would highly recommend that actions are taken to address the infection as soon as it presents itself.


There are a range of over the counter remedies available from your Haven pharmacy to help treat cystitis. Please speak to one of our trained advisers or ask your Haven pharmacist for advice on which treatment is best suited to your needs. Some of our pharmacies can carry out a urinary test which could save you time and money at your GP. Contact your local Haven for more details.


What are the Causes of Cystitis?

The most common cause of cystitis is bacterial infection. If bacteria reach the bladder, they multiply and irritate the bladder causing the symptoms of cystitis. A bacterial infection can be caused by not emptying the bladder completely. This is particularly common during pregnancy.

Less commonly, cystitis may occur as a reaction to certain drugs, radiation therapy or potential irritants, such as feminine hygiene spray, spermicidal jellies or long-term use of a catheter.


What are the Signs and Symptoms?

Pain, burning or stinging sensation on urination

  • A strong and persistent urge to urinate
  • Dark, cloudy, strong smelling urine
  • Pain low down in your tummy
  • Feeling a little unwell


These symptoms can be easily confused with other conditions so if it is the first time you are experiencing them, it may be advisable to consult with your doctor to confirm the diagnosis.

Seek advice from your Haven pharmacist in the following situations:

  • You are unsure if you have cystitis or not
  • Blood in the urine
  • Severe symptoms such as pain in your side
  • Fever
  • No improvement within a few days
  • Frequently recurring cystitis
  • You are a man or a pregnant woman with symptoms of cystitis


cystitis drink lots of water

The symptoms of mild cystitis usually clear up within a week without treatment. Drinking lots of water can help you to flush the infection out of your system.


Manage the Condition:

  • Take over the counter pain medication to ease the discomfort (ask your Haven Pharmacist first)
  • Drink plenty of water; 6 to 8 glasses per day might help.
  • Use a hot water bottle to ease pain and help inflammation.
  • Do not have sexual intercourse until cystitis has cleared up as this can make symptoms worse.


Preventing Cystitis:

  • Do not use perfumed soap, gels or talcum powder around your intimate area.
  • Have a shower rather than a bath.
  • Go to the toilet as soon as you need to urinate and ensure your bladder is completely emptied.
  • Always wipe your bottom from front to back after going to the toilet.
  • Stay well hydrated as drinking plenty of fluids will help to stop bacteria multiplying in the bladder.



Constipation is a common complaint. It occurs when bowel motions become harder or drier than normal and are difficult to pass or when you are having fewer bowel movements than your regular pattern.

Bowel habit is very much an individual pattern and there is a large amount of variance. For some people, a daily bowel movement is normal for others it may be every couple of days. Bowel habit is dependent on many factors including, diet, exercise, age and gender.

Haven pharmacists have put together some valuable information for you about the symptoms of constipation, how to treat it and when it is advisable to speak to your pharmacist or GP. Your local Haven pharmacist is always on hand to discuss any health concern you may have, drop in any time.

What Are the Symptoms of Constipation?

If you answer ‘yes’ to the following questions you may be constipated:

  • Do you often have fewer than three bowel movements in a week?
  • Are your stools often hard and dry, or small and hard?
  • Are you experiencing pain when passing stools?
  • Do you experience blood in your stools?

Symptoms of constipation include:

  • Straining with possible pain and difficulty passing
  • Stomach discomfort and bloating
  • Hard stools – specks of bright blood
  • Children may be irritable and have a decreased appetite
  • Less frequent bowel movements than your usual

With recurring constipation, the regular straining may cause people to develop haemorrhoids (piles).

What Causes Constipation?

Lack of fibre

  • Fibre is necessary to maintain a healthy bowel habit. The fibre helps lubricate the bowel by absorbing water and keeping the stool soft and easy to pass. Eating refined foods or processed foods can also lead to a low fibre diet and result in constipation

Lack of fluids

  • If you are dehydrated you will find it more difficult to pass stools as they are drier and harder. Babies are also at risk of constipation when they transfer to a solid diet or if they receive poorly prepared formula.

Lack of exercise

  • Immobility is a major cause of constipation (especially in the elderly). Sedentary lifestyles or changes in mobility due to illness or injury can result in a change in bowel habit. Even sitting for long periods of time such as flying long haul flights can result in constipation.


  • Medicine-induced constipation can be caused by the following: antidepressants, anti-Parkinson’s drugs, antipsychotics antihypertensive’s, pain killers (codeine), iron, epilepsy medicines, diuretics and antacids containing aluminium and calcium.


  • Hormonal changes in pregnancy can cause constipation. This is especially common in the third trimester.

Emotional distress

  • Worry, stress and depression can often cause constipation. For many people their digestive system is heavily influenced by their emotional states and in situations of high anxiety gut motility can be significantly altered.


  • Some medical conditions such as depression, bowel cancers, haemorrhoids (piles), diabetes and hypothyroidism can cause constipation.

Potty training

  • Children can become constipated during potty training due to anxiety and stress. In this time of change it is important to be supportive to your child and not put too much pressure on them to pass a bowel movement

How Can You Prevent Constipation?

Increase your fibre intake

  • The recommended intake of fibre is 30g per day. This can be found in whole grain cereals, breads, pasta and brown rice. Nuts, fresh fruit and vegetables are also a dietary necessity for a healthy bowel habit.

Increase your fluid intake

  • The recommended daily fluid intake is 1.5 litre or 6-8 glasses of water. Increase the water intake of breast fed and bottle fed babies for a short time until the constipation is gone

Increase your exercise

  • Regular exercise is important for a healthy body and a healthy digestive system. For the elderly or unwell this may be gentle exercise such as regular walking.

Don’t delay your bowel movements

  • By responding to “the call of nature” and trying to go to the toilet around the same time every day you can try to regulate your bowel motions – but it’s important to avoid straining.

Avoid caffeine – why?

  • Coffee can actually make stools harder to pass because it is a diuretic, so it draws liquid out of stools. If you are constipated, avoid coffee and other diuretics such as alcohol and caffeinated tea and cola.

What is the Treatment for Constipation?


Laxatives can be habit forming if taken regularly. Therefore, they should only be taken for short-term relief of constipation. Ask your Haven Pharmacist for advice on what is best for you. Laxatives should not be used for weight loss purposes and abuse can result in serious medical problems.

When Should You See a Doctor About Your Constipation?

  • If you see blood in stool – tarry, dark red or black
  • If you have constipation for seven days or longer – for no obvious cause
  • If your constipation coincides with weight and appetite loss
  • If you have pain on passing causing you to suppress reflex
  • If you are aged over 40 years old with sudden change in bowel habits -with no obvious cause
  • If you suspect depression