Understanding strokes, and their causes and symptoms.



What is a stroke?

A stroke, also known as a cerebrovascular accident (CVA), is a medical emergency that happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is disrupted or cut off, leading to brain cell damage, disability or death.

Types of stroke

  • Ischemic Stroke (blocked artery)—the most common kind of stroke occurs due to a blood clot within a cerebral artery (thrombotic stroke) or when a blood clot travels from another part of the body usually the heart to the brain and blocks a blood vessel (embolic stroke). A temporary (as little as 5 minutes) disruption of blood flow to the brain by a clot or debris is known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA), or a “mini-stroke”. It doesn’t cause lasting symptoms but it is a warning sign for potential strokes in the future.
  • Hemorrhagic Stroke (burst blood vessel)—occurs when a blood vessel in the brain leaks or ruptures and causes bleeding into or around the brain.


Strokes are caused by a blockage or narrowing of a blood vessel, leading to reduced flow or stop in supply of blood to the brain.

Factors that increase the risk of having a stroke, include:

  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure (hypertension)
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Bulges at weak spots in your blood vessel walls (aneurysms)
  • Trauma (such as a car accident)
  • Protein deposits in blood vessel walls that lead to weakness in the vessel wall (cerebral amyloid angiopathy)
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Physical inactivity
  • Heavy or binge drinking
  • Use of illegal drugs such as cocaine and methamphetamine
  • Cigarette smoking or secondhand smoke exposure
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Cardiovascular disease, including heart failure, heart defects, heart infection or irregular heart rhythm and atrial fibrillation
  • Personal or family history of stroke, heart attack or transient ischemic attack


Symptoms of a stroke can vary depending on the area of the brain affected. Time is critical when you or someone is having a stroke, so it can be helpful to identify the most common signs quickly with the word FAST (Face, Arms, Speech, Time):

  • Face—your face, mouth, eye, or smile may droop on one side
  • Arms—you may not be able to lift both arms and keep them there
  • Speech—you may have slurred or garbled speech or not be able to speak at all. You might also have a hard time understanding others.
  • Time—get emergency help immediately.

Other symptoms include:

  • Vision problems—blurred, double or blackened vision in one or both eyes
  • Severe headache—sudden headache often accompanied by vomiting, dizziness or altered consciousness.
  • Dizziness—loss of balance, or coordination difficulties
  • Confusion—difficulty with memory, or changes in behaviour
  • Trouble walking—sudden numbness, weakness or paralysis in leg causing you to stumble or lose your balance

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