A stroke occurs when a part of the brain is damaged due to a lack of blood supply. In minor strokes, the damage occurs only at a small portion of the brain. In major strokes, a large part of the brain is damaged. As a result of the damage, part of the body which is controlled by the damaged part of the brain will not function normally. Unlike other cells in the body, brain cells that die from stroke are unable to produce new cells.
When the brain cells are damaged, the following may be experienced:
- Weakness or numbness of one side of the body
- Slurred speech, difficulty in speaking
- Loss of vision, experiencing double vision
- Unsteadiness in walking, uncoordinated movements
- Giddiness combined with one of the above symptoms
- Loss of consciousness, coma
You should seek urgent medical attention if you experience any of the above symptoms.
Lack of blood supply to a part of the brain is usually caused by a blockage of a blood vessel called ‘artery’ in the brain. Such a blockage results in an “ischaemic stroke”. In a less common situation, the lack of blood supply is due to an artery burst, resulting in a “haemorrhagic stroke”. A haemorrhagic stroke can be due to the rupture of a blood vessel which has ballooned because of weak walls (aneursym), or an arteriovenous malformation (AVM) which is an abnormality in the structure of the blood vessels.
Are you at risk?
The risks of getting a stroke are higher in people who fall under the below categories:
- 40 years old and above (although younger people are at risk of getting stroke too)
- History of high blood pressure
- History of diabetes
- History of high cholesterol
- History of irregular heartbeat
- Excessive alcohol use
- History of previous stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA)
- Hormonal changes with pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause are also linked to an increased risk of stroke
You can reduce your risk of getting stroke, by visiting a doctor at least once a year for a medical check-up if you are over the age of 40 and consume all prescribed medications.
If you experience signs and symptoms of stroke such as weakness or numbness of the limbs, you will need to undergo some tests which may include:
- Blood tests To detect e.g. diabetes and high blood cholesterol
- Brain scan Usually a CT or MRI scan to confirm the type of stroke (whether it is due to a blood clot or burst blood vessel) and where it has occurred
- ECG (electrocardiogram) To look for heart disease
- Ultrasound scans To look for abnormalities, e.g. of the blood vessels to the brain
- Angiogram An x-ray test in which a small tube is inserted via a blood vessel in the groin to reach the blood vessel to the brain. A dye injected through the tube then shows the degree of blockage of blood vessels or the location of the bleeding in the brain