Health conditions

Stroke

What is a stroke?

A stroke occurs when an artery supplying blood to a part of the brain becomes blocked or bursts. As a result, that part of the brain is damaged because it is deprived of its blood supply which normally carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain, allowing it to function.

There are 2 types of stroke and they have different causes.

Ischaemic strokes

An ischaemic stroke is the most common type of stroke. It is usually caused by a blood clot in an artery that supplies blood to your brain.

A clot may form in an artery, in the brain itself, or a clot that has formed in a larger artery in your chest or neck that may break away and be carried by the bloodstream to a smaller artery in your brain where it becomes lodged.

Clots tend to form in arteries that have become narrowed by the slow build up of fatty material called plaque or atheroma. This gradual clogging process is known as atherosclerosis, and is the same process that causes coronary heart disease.

Haemorrhagic strokes

Haemorrhagic strokes happen when an artery in your brain bursts. They lead to bleeding in your brain and squashing of the tissue around the broken artery.

This type of stroke is usually caused by high blood pressure and/or diseases involving the blood vessels in your brain.

Signs and symptoms

Common stroke symptoms are the sudden onset of one or more of the following:

  • loss of strength (paralysis) of the face, arm and/or leg on one side of the body
  • loss of feeling (including complete loss of sensation, numbness or tingling) of the face, arm and/or leg on one side of the body
  • loss of normal speech (for example difficulty finding the correct words to say)
  • loss of balance
  • loss of normal vision (for example double vision, poor vision).

A stroke is a medical emergency. If you, or someone around you experiences any of the stroke symptoms described above, seek urgent medical attention by dialling triple zero (000).

Diagnosis of stroke

A number of tests may be done in hospital to confirm the diagnosis of a stroke, including a CT scan or MRI to determine the type of stroke and the part of the brain affected.

Treatment of stroke

A stroke will affect different people in different ways. It also depends on what kind of stroke a person has had and what part of the brain has been affected as a result of the stroke.

If you have a high risk of stroke, or have already had a stroke, your doctor may recommend medicine to help stop blood clots forming.

Your doctor may also consider a procedure to remove the fatty deposits that are clogging the artery in the neck that carries blood to the brain. This procedure is called carotid endarterectomy.

For more information on stroke visit the National Stroke Foundation (external site) or call the StrokeLine on 1800 787 653.

Reducing the risk of stroke

The main risk factors for a stroke are:

  • high blood pressure
  • cigarette smoking
  • high blood cholesterol
  • diabetes
  • heavy alcohol use and binge drinking
  • existing heart and blood vessel disease, including disorders of heart rhythm (such as atrial fibrillation), coronary heart disease and peripheral arterial disease
  • previous stroke or transient ischaemic attack (TIA)
  • increasing age.

To reduce your risk of stroke:

  • maintain healthy blood pressure, blood sugar and blood cholesterol levels – have them checked regularly, follow your doctor’s advice and  take any medicines as prescribed
  • don't smoke – for information on quitting smoking call the Quitline on 13 QUIT
  • enjoy healthy eating – eat a variety of foods which are low in saturated fat and salt
  • be physically active – include 30 minutes or more of moderate intensity physical activity (such as brisk walking) on most, or all, days of the week
  • drink alcohol only in moderation, if at all – if you have high blood pressure or are taking blood pressure medicine, you are advised to limit alcohol intake to no more than 2 drinks per day (men), or 1 drink per day (women)
  • achieve and maintain a healthy body weight.

Where to get help

  • Always dial triple zero (000) to call an ambulance in a medical emergency
  • See your doctor
  • Visit a GP after hours
  • Ring healthdirect on 1800 022 222
  • Phone the Heart Foundation’s Health Information Service on 1300 362 787

Remember

  • A stroke occurs when an artery supplying blood to a part of the brain becomes blocked or bursts.
  • A stroke is a medical emergency.

This information provided by

Heart Foundation logo


Acknowledgements
Heart Foundation

This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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