Stroke

Stroke is a generic term used to describe any sudden interruption of brain function due to a problem with the blood vessels of the brain. It is the second commonest cause of major disability and death in Australia.

Stroke may occur due to blockage of brain blood vessels, ischaemic stroke or due to rupture and bleeding of brain blood vessels (haemorrhagic stroke – see Aneurysm, AVM, DAVF)

Ischaemic stroke accounts for around 80% of all strokes, and usually occurs after blockage of brain vessels due to migration of clots which have formed in the heart or neck arteries.These are then carried with the blood into smaller arteries in the head where they get lodged as emboli, depriving the brain of blood and oxygen.

Most treatment for ischaemic stroke occurs in an emergency or semi-emergency setting with hospital emergency facilities. However, some procedures are designed for the prevention of ischaemic stroke in people at risk of developing emboli. Most of these procedures involve angioplasty and/or stenting of the artery acting as a source of emboli.

Some people at risk of major ischaemic stroke experience transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs), where they suddenly develop neurological impairment (paralysis of face/ arm/ leg, loss of speech, double vision), which recovers rapidly and completely over a few seconds or minutes. In such cases, it is vital to seek urgent medical attention, since TIAs are considered “warning” signs, and may predict impending major stroke.

People who are at risk of ischaemic stroke include those with a history of smoking, high cholesterol or high blood pressure, and those who have had previous radiotherapy to the neck for cancer.