As one of the leading causes of death in Australia, a stroke is a serious medical condition that can lead to a range of long-term health outcomes if not identified and treated promptly. While strokes can affect people of all ages, the likelihood of experiencing a stroke often increases with age.

Understanding the signs of stroke and seeking medical treatment quickly is essential for increasing the chances of the best possible outcome.

What is a stroke?

A stroke is the result of interrupted blood supply to the brain from either a blockage or a bleed. Essentially, when a stroke occurs, the brain doesn’t receive enough nutrients or oxygen, which can cause brain cells to become damaged or die within minutes.

There are two main types of stroke:
Ischemic (clot) stroke occurs when a blood clot stops the blood supply from reaching an area of your brain, and
Haemorrhagic (bleed) stroke is the result of a ruptured blood vessel.

A transient ischemic attack (TIA) involves a blood clot that eventually resolves itself after a short period. Also known as a mini-stroke, experiencing a TIA can often indicate you could be at higher risk for a stroke later down the track.

What causes a stroke?

Strokes can result from several factors, but the main causes tend to come down to the type of stroke. The two main types of stroke each result from different causes.

An ischemic stroke is caused by a blood clot, which stems from two main causes:
Thrombotic stroke: occurs when a blood clot (thrombus) forms within one of the arteries supplying blood to the brain.
Embolic stroke: results from an embolus, which is a blood clot or debris that forms elsewhere in the body and travels to the brain, blocking a blood vessel.

Several common risk factors can increase the chance of experiencing an ischemic stroke, including:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension),
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Atrial fibrillation (an irregular heart rhythm)
  • Obesity
  • Age (risk increases with age)

A hemorrhagic stroke occurs as a result of a bleed and can also be broken down into two sub-types:

Intracerebral haemorrhage: occurs when a blood vessel within the brain ruptures and leaks blood into the surrounding brain tissue.
Subarachnoid haemorrhage: involves bleeding into the space between the brain and the skull’s surface.

If you experience any of the following conditions, you could be at higher risk of a haemorrhagic stroke:

  • High blood pressure
  • Aneurysms (weak or thin spots on blood vessel walls)
  • Arteriovenous malformations (abnormal connections between arteries and veins)
  • Blood-thinning medications

Other factors that can contribute to stroke risk include a family history of strokes, a personal history of a prior stroke or TIA and certain medical conditions or lifestyle factors. With that said, some risk factors can be easily managed through simple lifestyle changes, like eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, avoiding smoking and managing conditions like hypertension and diabetes.

What are the symptoms of stroke?

Although the symptoms of a stroke can vary depending on the type of stroke and the part of the brain affected, using the F.A.S.T test could help you to identify the signs of stroke:
Face: Is their mouth drooped?
Arms: Can they lift both arms?
Speech: Is there speech slurred? Are they having trouble understanding you?
Time is critical: If you notice any of these signs, act fast and call triple zero immediately. Early treatment could help to prevent brain damage, long-term disability or even death.

Other common stroke symptoms include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness
  • Loss of sensation, usually on one side of the body
  • Confusion
  • Sudden behavioural changes
  • Vision problems
  • Dizziness
  • Seizures
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Difficulty walking
  • A severe headache

When it comes to stroke, time matters so it’s better to be safe than sorry. If you’re worried someone could be experiencing a stroke or stroke-like symptoms, call emergency services immediately to get them the help they need.

How can you treat stroke?

There are several different treatments for stroke, but the best course of action generally depends on the type of stroke you’ve suffered. Stroke treatment will often involve both immediate and long-term treatments. Medication or medical procedures are often used first to address the clot or bleeding soon after the patient has experienced a stroke.

Once the cause of the stroke has been addressed, the patient might need to begin therapy or undergo rehabilitation to regain skills and function. Common stroke therapy includes a combination of physiotherapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy and support from allied health assistants to help the client achieve the best quality of life. Some patients may also need to take medications to manage any underlying health issues or implement certain lifestyle changes to prevent a stroke from recurring.

At Community NeuroRehab Service, our team of experienced and caring allied health professionals offers neurological rehabilitation and stroke treatments for all ages. From physiotherapy and exercise physiology to occupational therapy, we’re able to provide a tailored multi-disciplinary approach to rehabilitation. Get in touch today to see how we could be a part of your rehabilitation journey.