Stroke is a medical emergency and Australia's single highest killer after Coronary Heart Disease (CHD), and is a leading cause of long-term disability.
If you, or someone you know experiences symptoms, seek urgent medical attention - dial 000.
A Stroke, sometimes called a Cerebrovascular Accident or CVA, happens when a blood vessel that supplies the brain bleeds, or is suddenly blocked by a clot. This disrupts or stops the flow of blood to the part of the brain fed by that blood vessel and can cause brain tissue to die. When this happens, any or all of movement, vision, thought, speech and consciousness can be affected.
The most common form of Stroke, accounting for around 80% of all cases is the Ischaemic Stroke, caused by a blocked artery. Ischaemic Strokes fall into two common categories: thrombotic and embolic.
Thrombotic Stroke occurs when the build up of fatty plaque (atheroma) clogs and narrows the artery so that blood can’t flow to the brain.
Embolic Stroke occurs when a clot from a blood vessel in the brain, chest, heart or neck lodges in a brain artery, stopping the flow of blood to that part of the brain.
The second and less common form is the Haemorrhagic Stroke, when an artery in the brain ruptures and bleeds into the brain, placing pressure on and damaging the surrounding brain tissue.
The occurrence of a Stroke can be diagnosed through physical examination, laboratory blood tests and specialised tests. CT or MRI scans are often used to determine the type of Stroke, and extent of damage to the brain.
Strokes can occur suddenly, but the underlying cause can take many years to develop. Yet, as Australia's single highest killer after Coronary Heart Disease and a leading cause of long-term disability it is, in most cases very preventable.
High Blood Pressure is the most critical Risk factor as it can damage and weaken the blood vessel walls. High Cholesterol, which leads to the build up of fatty plaque deposits in the arteries, also puts you at risk. Diabetes is also a major Risk factor for Stroke. Lifestyle choices such as binge drinking, smoking, and being overweight or obese also increase your Risk.
A lesser known Risk is Fibro Muscular Dysplasia or FMD, which causes some arteries to narrow with fibrous tissues that reduce blood flow. In most cases this affects blood supply to the kidneys, but in some cases can affect the carotid artery, which supplies blood to the brain.
Three Risk factors for Stroke that can’t be controlled include age, gender (Stroke is more common in women) and family history.
Stroke symptoms include one or a combination of the following. If you experience these symptoms, or if you know someone who is, contact 000 for urgent medical attention.
A major Stroke is when one or more of the above symptons persit for more then 3 weeks.
Classified as a Transient Ischaemic Attack (TIA) or a Reversible Ischemic Neurological Deficit (RIND) Strokes have the same symptoms but differ from a major Stroke only in the duration.
TIA, is when Stroke symptoms are experienced for just a few minutes to 24 hours, while RIND symptoms extend from 24 hours but less than 3 weeks.
People may report feeling well again after a minor Stroke but should treat it as a serious warning sign of a possible full Stroke and seek immediate medical attention.
Following a Stroke, there’s no treatment that can reverse any damage to the brain so early and active rehabilitation, including speech therapy, occupational therapy and physiotherapy, is one of the best forms of treatment. This can stimulate the greatest recovery within the first few weeks, but unfortunately it’s not unusual for people who’ve experienced a Stroke to be dependent on others a year later.
About one in six Stroke survivors experience a second Stroke within five years, so treatments to lower the Risk of another Stroke are vital. This means detecting Risk factors and treating them if present.
In some cases, patients may be suitable for thrombolysis where a ‘clot buster’ medication is injected into the blocked artery to dissolve the clot. However, this treatment must be commenced within three hours of the Stroke, can cause brain bleeding and is suitable for only a small number of patients.
For Stroke caused by a clot that has broken off from a blocked neck artery, a carotid endarterectomy may also be performed to hopefully prevent more Strokes from occurring.
This surgical procedure is not without risk and literally removes the atheroma deposits that are clogging the artery that supplies the brain.
If you're at Risk of developing abnormal Arrhythmias, your doctor may implant a small device, called an implantable cardiac defibrillator (ICD) into your chest, or start you on medications to control your heart rate.
The essential part of any treatment includes managing or treating controllable Risk factors - High Cholesterol, High Blood Pressure, diabetes, smoking, atrial fibrillation, stress and carrying too much weight.
he underlying cause of Strokes develops over many years. While you can’t do anything about Risk factors such as your gender, age or family medical history, you can reduce your Risk significantly by knowing the controllable Risk factors and managing them. It’s never too early to start!
If you smoke, there has never been a better time to quit. Nicotine replacement patches or prescription medications are effective in reducing the cravings.
Do you know your cholesterol levels? Most people don't. Information is key, so knowing where you stand is the first step in keeping track and maintaining your heart health. You can order a Blood Pathology Request through HeartSmart.me. Results are mailed directly to you and you can track your results using the My Heart Health section of HeartSmart.me.
Supplements are a great way to make sure you're getting your daily requirement of heart healthy nutrients. Supplements such as Omega 3 fish oil, Vitamins C and E and Coenzyme Q10 can be very beneficial to your heart health.
If you have diabetes, follow your doctor’s direction and keep your blood glucose within a healthy range. Even if you don't have diabetes, stick to a low GI (Glycaemic Index) diet. You won’t be hungry and your blood sugar levels will be stable.
Order a HeartSmart.me blood pressure monitor and keep track of your blood pressure weekly. You can record your results in the My Heart Health section of HeartSmart.me. Aim to keep your blood pressure out of the danger zone - below 140/90mmHg. If your blood pressure is consistently high see your doctor.
Get a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate physical activity every day, or at least 2 hours in total per week. Even better, if you can get 4 hours of sweaty activity per week, you'll help lower your Risk of cancer too.
Get your waist measurement to your 'low risk' zone. Men should keep it below 95cm and women should be below 80cm. Aim for a Body Mass Index of less than 25. You can track your progress in the My Heart Health section of HeartSmart.me.
Happiness is good for the heart. Just as negative emotions such as depression, anger, and hostility are risk factors for heart attack and stroke, studies show that happiness seems to protect the heart.