Any sudden event that's an insult to the brain is a stroke.
They can manifest in different ways.
Within the main 'insult' that can happen to the brain, the brain can get injured either by not having enough blood getting there, which means a lack of oxygen and nutrients going into certain areas of the brain.
This is an ischemic stroke and is the most common type encountered.
The other main type of stroke is a haemorrhagic stroke, where there is bleeding into the brain substance, and accounts for about 15 per cent of stroke patients.
Whichever type of stroke is suffered, patients end up having significant disability afterwards, so ideally we would like to prevent them before they happen.
There are some common risk factors for the two types of strokes, and so there is some similarity in the things that you can do to prevent them.
The most common risk factors that are identified include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, irregular heart rhythms, smoking, diabetes, and family history of stroke.
The good news is that some of these risk factors of stroke can be adjusted through lifestyle modifications: exercise, maintaining a good blood pressure, quitting (or not taking up) smoking and eating a healthy diet that is low in fat and salt.
This may be common sense that many people already are doing with their diet and exercise regimes.
It is also important to have regular checks with your general practitioner to ensure that your blood pressure is within normal limits, and you don't have diabetes or high blood sugar. Similarly, your cholesterol can be monitored with blood tests.
Previously, once a stroke occurred, there would be limited treatments to mitigate the full effects of the stroke.
However, there has been a complete revolution in stroke treatment within the last four years.
For patients with ischaemic strokes due to blockage of a main artery in the brain, it is now possible to restore blood flow in 80-90% of cases by retrieving blood clots causing the blockage.
This procedure, called mechanical thrombectomy or endovascular clot retrieval, has prevented patients from progressing to suffering a massive stroke and becoming completely dependent for the rest of their lives.
Suspect a stroke? Act F.A.S.T.
The origin of the word stroke comes from the fact that it's like a strike or as if you've been hit with something. A stroke is sudden, and without warning.
There's no prediction of when it might happen and then depending on which part of the brain is affected you can get different symptoms.
The Stroke Foundation has recommended the acronym F.A.S.T. to help people remember the symptoms and necessary response.
F is face: asymmetry or any irregularities that you see that happen in the face.
A is arm: the inability to lift one arm or the other.
S is speech: slurred or affected speech.
T is time: the main thing people need to know about is that if they go to the emergency department quickly enough, the chances of recovery are so much higher.
Other things to look out for besides the FAST acronym are changes in vision (particularly blindness in one eye), sudden collapses or becoming comatose. If you're worried about a stroke, then you should call an ambulance and get to the nearest emergency department.
- Today's answer is provided by Sydney neurosurgeon and neurointerventionalist Dr Johnny Wong, through HealthShare, a digital company dedicated to improving the health of regional Australians. Submit questions, and find more answers, at healthshare.com.au.
If you're worried about a stroke, then you should call an ambulance.