Sunday, May 26, 2024

Stroke: Causes, Symptoms, Types and Treatment

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The World Health Organization (WHO) ranks stroke as the second leading cause of death and the third leading cause of disability worldwide. Data from the WHO shows that one in four people are at risk of suffering from a stroke episode in their lifetime.

What is it?

Stroke usually occurs when blood supply to the brain is blocked or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts and spills blood on nearby tissue. According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), these two events result in parts of the brain getting damaged.

The affected parts can also die out. “A stroke can cause lasting brain damage, long-term disability, or even death,” cites the CDC. In addition, the Johns Hopkins Medicine cites that brain cells will begin to die after just a few moments of being without oxygen.

“Brain function is lost the moment brain cells die. When this happens, the patient may no longer be able to do simple tasks that are controlled by the affected part of the brain,” states Johns Hopkins Medicine.

For example, when an individual suffers from this attack, they may find that they are totally unable to move, eat, speak, or control their bowel and bladder movements.

They might also have difficulties thinking and remembering things, they will have problems controlling their emotions and other vital body functions. The impact of a major stroke might also leave the patient paralyzed for the remainder of their life.

Types and causes of stroke

According to the Johns Hopkins Medicine, there are two main types of strokes. These are:

Ischemic stroke: This is the most common type of stroke. Johns Hopkins explains that it mainly happens when a major blood vessel in the brain is blocked. The blood vessel may be blocked by a blood clot or by a buildup of fatty deposit and cholesterol known as plaque.

Hemorrhagic stroke: This type of stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts and spills blood on the nearby tissues. This results in a buildup of pressure in the nearby brain tissue which causes more damage and irritation.

The CDC adds that conditions that can lead to this type of stroke include high blood pressure and aneurysms. Aneurysms are balloon-like bulges in an artery that can stretch and burst spilling blood on nearby tissue. “Blood pressure of 140/90 or higher can damage the arteries that supply blood to the brain,” the CDC cites.

Apart from these two types of stroke, the patient might have what is known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or a mini-stroke.

“This type of stroke is different from the two major types of stroke because blood flow to the brain is blocked for only a short time of not more than 5 minutes,” the CDC states.

However, a mini stroke is a major warning that the patient is at risk of suffering from a future major stroke. “More than a third of people who have a transient ischemic attack and don’t get treatment have a major stroke within 1 year,” states CDC.

“As many as 10 per cent to 15 per cent of people will have a major stroke within 3 months of a transient ischemic attack.”


Stroke can attack without notice. This means that its symptoms might be very sudden.

These symptoms will vary from patient to patient based on the type of stroke they are about to encounter. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, the most common symptoms will include:

  • The weakness or numbness of the face, arm, or leg. This usually happens on one side of the body.
  • Difficulties with speaking or understanding.
  • Difficulties with vision. This may include dimness or loss of vision in one or both eyes.
  • Dizziness or problems with balance and coordination
  • Difficulties walking
  • Fainting or seizures
  • Sudden severe headaches with no known cause
  • Sudden nausea or vomiting that’s not caused by any viral illness

For individuals who might be close to someone coming down with stroke, the CDC recommends the F.A.S.T method of spotting stroke symptoms and getting emergency medical attention. This method includes:

F: Check if this individual’s face is drooping. You can do this by asking them to smile.

A: Ask this individual to raise their arms. Observe if one arm will drift downwards.

S: Check if their speech is getting slurred and disjointed. You can do this by asking them to repeat simple phrases.

T: Note the duration within which these symptoms appear and call or rush for emergency medical help.

Risk factors

According to the WHO, stroke is dominated by lifestyle risk factors. These include being overweight or obese, physical inactivity, tobacco use and alcohol abuse.

This is echoed by a medical research that was conducted in 2020 by the University College London (UCL) on incidents of stroke among people who take alcohol. This medical research established that people with advanced age who drink heavily are at an increased risk.

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At least half of all drinkers aged 59 years and above will have been heavy drinkers at some point in their lifetime and at high risk for stroke.

“Heavy alcohol consumption over a lifetime is associated with higher blood pressure, poorer liver function, increased risk of getting stroke, larger waist circumferences, and larger body mass index (BMI),” said Dr. Linda Ng Fat of the UCL Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care.

According to the WHO, medical risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and a personal or family history of stroke or heart attack. Other medical risk factors include high red blood cell count (leading to thickening of blood and onset clots), Cardiac structural abnormalities (such as damaged heart valves), and an abnormal heart rhythm.

“An estimated 70 per cent of strokes occur in low- and middle-income countries, which also account for 87 per cent of stroke-related deaths and disability-adjusted life years,” states the WHO.

This resonates with the findings of a 2018 medical study by Kenyatta National Hospital and Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital which established that the high rate of stroke occurrence in Sub-Saharan Africa is due to poor health outcomes.


According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, there is no cure for stroke once it has occurred. However, there are treatment methods that a qualified and licensed medical professional will administer to prevent the occurrence of future stroke as well as help the patient recover and adjust properly.

These forms of treatment and therapy should be administered the moment the patient comes down with stroke. “Treatment will depend on the patient’s age, current and past state of health, cause, severity, and type of stroke, the affected part of the brain, and patient’s medication and therapy tolerance,” states Johns Hopkins.

Treatment may involve medication, surgery, and life support measures and therapy. Before any form of treatment is administered, the patient will have to undergo comprehensive tests for stroke, including brain imaging and tests on blood flow in the brain.

“These tests will be made up of a CT scan of the brain to detect bleeding or brain cell damage, an X-ray image of the blood vessels known as CTA test, an MRA on blood flow through the arteries, and, or an MRI to detect changes in brain tissue,” cites Johns Hopkins Medicine.

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