Identifying Medical Conditions: Stroke

What is stroke?

A stroke is a “brain attack”. It can happen to anyone at any time. It occurs when blood flow to an area of brain is cut off. When this happens, brain cells are deprived of oxygen and begin to die. When brain cells die during a stroke, abilities controlled by that area of the brain such as memory and muscle control are lost.

How a person is affected by their stroke depends on where the stroke occurs in the brain and how much the brain is damaged. For example, someone who had a small stroke may only have minor problems such as temporary weakness of an arm or leg. People who have larger strokes may be permanently paralyzed on one side of their body or lose their ability to speak. Some people recover completely from strokes, but more than 2/3 of survivors will have some type of disability.


Stroke by the Numbers

  • Each year nearly 800,000 people experience a new or recurrent stroke.
  • A stroke happens every 40 seconds.
  • Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in countries like U.S.
  • Every 4 minutes someone dies from stroke.
  • Up to 80 percent of strokes can be prevented.
  • Stroke is the leading cause of adult disability in U.S.


Many people visualize having a stroke with a picture of it happening suddenly. The person stops speaking or moving, falls down, their face may distort on one side and they may lose the use of an arm and leg on one side. This type of stroke is caused by a blood clot which prevents blood reaching part of the brain.

This is not always the case. Often a stroke can be so mild that it can go unnoticed. The person may complain of an intense headache which is not helped by normal painkillers. They may start to move slowly, slur their words and be unable to understand what you say. Possibly they may vomit. Or the stroke may be so mild that they just say they feel tired or dizzy, that their arm or leg feels heavy, they have tingling or pins and needles in a limb. This type of stroke may be caused by a bleed in the brain.

Other indications can include:

  • Sudden loss or blurring of vision
  • Confusion
  • Problems with balance or co-ordination
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Loss of consciousness

Sometimes the characteristics may last only a few minutes or a short time before disappearing. Also, be aware that these symptoms can also have causes other than a stroke.


What to do

People, who experience a mild or mini stroke, may recover completely or retain some minor impairment. Even through the symptoms disappear quickly you should not ignore them. It is an indication that something could be wrong with the blood supply to the person’s brain and puts them at increased risk of having a more severe stroke in the future.

If you suspect your loved one has had a mini stroke contact your GP or out of hours service as soon as possible.  If the symptoms indicate that they are actually having a stroke, call immediately and ask for an ambulance. Prompt treatment is essential to improve the chances of recovery.

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