A stroke occurs when the blood flow to a part of the brain is obstructed or halted, either due to a blockage or a rupture in a blood vessel. This leads to damage and death of brain cells, impairing various brain functions.

Types of Stroke

Strokes are broadly categorised into two types:

Ischemic Stroke:

  • Prevalence: Constituting about 80% of stroke cases.
  • Causes: It often results from a blood clot or debris formed elsewhere in the body that travels to and blocks a brain artery. It can also emerge from the buildup of fatty deposits and cholesterol, leading to narrowed and less flexible blood vessels, thereby hampering efficient blood flow to the brain.

Hemorrhagic Stroke:

  • Prevalence: Accounts for roughly 20% of strokes.
  • Causes: Commonly caused by high blood pressure and brain aneurysms. The weakened arterial wall may balloon and rupture, or the fat accumulation can make arteries prone to breaking. This type is particularly perilous as it leads to rapid loss of blood supply and internal bleeding in the brain, with potentially fatal outcomes.

Risk Factors for Stroke

Uncontrollable Risk Factors:

  • Age: Risk increases with age due to weakening blood vessels and plaque buildup causing arterial narrowing.
  • Gender: Men are at a higher risk.
  • Hypercoagulable States: A condition leading to abnormal blood clotting.

Controllable Risk Factors:

  • High Blood Pressure: Significantly elevates stroke risk.
  • Diabetes: Can lead to arterial hardening in the brain, raising stroke risk.
  • High Cholesterol: Contributes to arterial blockages.
  • Heart Disease: Conditions like atrial fibrillation and arrhythmia can cause blood clots that may lead to strokes.
  • Smoking: Lowers blood oxygen levels and damages arteries.
  • Oral Contraceptives: Some birth control pills can increase stroke risk.
  • Syphilis: Can inflame and harden cerebral blood vessels.
  • Physical Inactivity: Raises stroke risk.

Recognising Stroke Symptoms

The onset of stroke symptoms is typically sudden and varies based on the extent and location of brain damage. They include:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness, particularly on one side of the body.
  • Slurred speech, asymmetrical smile, drooling, or swallowing difficulties.
  • Severe headache and dizziness.
  • Vision problems like blurriness, double vision, or partial vision loss.
  • Difficulty with walking, balance, or coordination.

Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIAs), or mini-strokes, may precede a stroke. These present temporary symptoms that resolve within 24 hours and are crucial warning signs.

Immediate medical attention is vital upon noticing these symptoms, as timely treatment can significantly influence the severity and outcome of a stroke.

Effective Diagnosis Methods

Stroke diagnosis involves various tests to pinpoint brain damage, blood vessel issues, and potential stroke risk factors:

  • Blood Tests: Including complete blood count (CBC), and checks for blood glucose and cholesterol levels.
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG): To detect heart rate and rhythm irregularities.
  • Computerized Tomography (CT) Scan: Identifies blood supply deficiencies or hemorrhaging in the brain.
  • Carotid Duplex Scan: An ultrasound test that measures blood flow in the neck's carotid arteries, which supply blood to the brain.
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): Assesses the brain and its blood vessels.

Tailored Treatment Approaches

Treatment varies depending on the stroke type:

Ischemic Stroke:

  • Focus: Restoring brain blood flow.
  • Methods: Medications to dissolve blood clots, effective if administered within 4.5 hours of symptom onset.

Hemorrhagic Stroke:

  • Focus: Controlling bleeding and reducing brain blood pressure.
  • Methods: Surgery may be considered in extreme cases to prevent brain damage from altered blood pressure.

Preventing Stroke Recurrence

  • Regular Health Check-Ups: Essential for identifying and treating risk factors.
  • Medication Adherence: Particularly anti-coagulants and anti-platelets, as per doctor's advice. Never discontinue without medical consultation.
  • Managing Health Conditions: Keep high blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar within normal ranges.
  • Healthy Lifestyle Choices: Balanced diet, regular exercise, healthy weight maintenance, smoking cessation, and alcohol moderation.
  • Immediate Medical Attention: Seek help if symptoms of inadequate brain blood supply appear.

For those who have experienced an ischemic stroke, doctors will prescribe specific medications to prevent recurrence. It's crucial to follow the prescribed medication regimen strictly to avoid severe complications.