What is a Stroke?

A stroke, also known as a Cerebrovascular Accident (CVA) is a brain attack – a sudden interruption of blood flow to part of the brain causing it to stop working and eventually damaging brain cells. This interruption can be caused by a blood clot (known as an ischaemic stroke), or by bleeding in the brain (known as a haemorrhagic stroke).  A stroke can injure the brain like a heart attack can injure the heart.

During a stroke, the cells in the affected part of the brain start to die and that part of the brain cannot work properly. This can affect a person’s ability to walk, talk, eat, see, read, socialise or do things they were able to do before the stroke.

Many people with stroke may also have fatigue or problems with remembering, understanding or thinking properly. The effects can be devastating and may last a lifetime.

If you have suffered a stroke or are supporting someone who has, it is important to understand what has happened, why it has happened and what you can do to ensure the best recovery. You’ll find the answer to these and many more questions in these resources.

Ischaemic Stroke

This is the most common type of stroke, particularly in older people. An ischaemic stroke occurs when a clot blocks an artery in the brain. The clot usually forms in a small blood vessel inside the brain that has become narrowed through high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or smoking. Sometimes this blood clot may develop in another part of your body, and then travel in the blood vessels to the brain and get stuck, blocking the blood vessel. The medical term for this is an ‘embolus’ and causes an Embolic Stroke.

Haemorrhagic Stroke

This occurs when an artery in the brain ruptures (bursts) and leaks blood into the brain (cerebral haemorrhage). This break in the blood pipeline means parts of the brain are deprived of blood and a stroke occurs. Blood irritates brain tissue, causing swelling and pressure, which cause further damage and loss of function. Subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH) is when blood leaks into the surface of the brain. Intracranial haemorrhage (ICH) is when there is bleeding into the brain tissue itself.

Transient Ischaemic Stroke

A TIA is less severe than a full‐blown stroke. TIA symptoms usually last a short time and recovery occurs within 24 hours. It is often called a ‘warning stroke’ or a ‘mini-stroke’. A TIA does not usually cause permanent damage to the brain. 

It is very important that a TIA is not ignored! It is a warning sign that you could have a more severe and damaging stroke in the future, and you should take it very seriously. 

The Impact of Stroke

Different parts of the brain control a person’s movements, senses, emotions and intellectual functions. The effects of a stroke depend on which part of the brain is damaged and how severe the damage is.

Disabilities from stroke range from slight to severe. Some people make a speedy recovery and return to their normal lives. Others have disabilities that may improve with time and can be managed. For many, disabilities may last a lifetime. A small number of people will need full-time medical care.

Who Does Stroke Affect?

Anyone can have a stroke. Strokes are relatively common as people get older, with 1 in 10 occurring in people aged 75 or older. Although strokes often happen to older people, a number also occur in children, even babies on rare occasions.

Stroke is largely preventable (approximately 80%), yet each year a large number of cases are recorded worldwide. This number would be more than halved if all the recommended actions to reduce stroke risks were taken. Check with your doctor, nurse or pharmacist as to what your risk is and what you can do to reduce it.