Stroke in Australia

Doctor meeting stroke survivor

Are strokes common in Australia?

There are over 400,000 survivors of stroke in Australia according to a 2020 Deloitte study. The Stroke Foundation of Australia notes a Federal Goverment health study that strokes kill more Australian women than breast cancer and more Australian men than prostate cancer. Its a serious and widespread health issue.

What is a stroke?

From Heart&Stroke Canada, a stroke happens when blood stops flowing to any part of your brain, damaging brain cells. The effects of a stroke depend on the part of the brain that was damaged and the amount of damage done. Knowing the types of strokes can help you better understand your stroke.

Types of stroke

The effects of your stroke depend on the type of stroke, the part of the brain that was damaged and the amount of damage.

  • Ischemic stroke – Caused by a blockage or clot in a blood vessel in your brain. The backup can be caused when a substance called plaque builds up on the inside wall of an artery.
  • Hemorrhagic stroke – Caused when an artery in the brain breaks open. The interrupted blood flow causes damage to your brain. High blood pressure weakens arteries over time and is a major cause of hemorrhagic stroke. 
  • Transient ischemic attack (TIA) – Caused by a small clot that briefly blocks an artery. It is sometimes called a mini-stroke or warning stroke. The TIA symptoms usually last less than an hour, and may only last a few minutes. TIAs are an important warning that a more serious stroke may occur soon. They are a medical emergency – call 000.

How can you know if someone is having a stroke?

It is important to catch a stroke fast to try to prevent permanent damage. HealthDirect lists several symptoms to look for when you think someone is having a stroke. The acronym to use is F.A.S.T. 

  • Face – Has their mouth or face drooped?
  • Arms – Can they lift both arms?
  • Speech – Can they understand you? Is their speech slurred?
  • Time – Time is crucial. If you notice any of these symptoms call 000 immediately. 

Other possible signs of a stroke are:

  • Weakness or paralysis elsewhere in the body, on one or both sides
  • Loss of sensation, usually on one side
  • Loss of vision or blurred vision in one or both eyes
  • A sudden and severe headache
  • Dizziness, loss of balance or an unexplained fall
  • Difficulty swallowing

Australians often have permanent damage to their brain after strokes

Many symptoms continue to affect individuals after just one stroke. Strokes can cause permanent damage depending on what part of the brain was damaged and how long oxygen was restricted. 

According to Better Health Channel, some of the biggest problems after a stroke are:

  • Impaired speech
  • Restricted physical abilities
  • Weakness or paralysis of limbs on one side of the body
  • Difficulty gripping or holding things
  • Slowed ability to communicate
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Memory problems

These symptoms can impair the work and the quality of relationships for survivors of a stroke in Australia.

What are the causes of Stroke?

MayoClinic lists two main causes of stroke: a blocked artery (ischemic stroke) or leaking or bursting of a blood vessel (hemorrhagic stroke). Some people may have only a temporary disruption of blood flow to the brain, known as a transient ischemic attack (TIA), that doesn’t cause lasting symptoms.

Ischemic strokes are usually caused by fatty deposits that build up in blood vessels or by blood clots or other debris that travel through the bloodstream, most often from the heart, and lodge in the blood vessels in the brain.

Hemorrhagic stroke can result from many conditions that affect the blood vessels. Factors related to hemorrhagic stroke include:

  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure
  • Overtreatment with blood thinners (anticoagulants)
  • Bulges at weak spots in your blood vessel walls (aneurysms)
  • Trauma (such as a car accident)
  • Protein deposits in blood vessel walls lead to weakness in the vessel wall (cerebral amyloid angiopathy)
  • Ischemic stroke leading to haemorrhage
  • A less common cause of bleeding in the brain is the rupture of an irregular tangle of thin-walled blood vessels (arteriovenous malformation).

Like an ischemic stroke, transient ischemic attack (TIA) occurs when a clot or debris reduces or blocks blood flow to part of the nervous system.

What help is available for people after a stroke in Australia?

Victor Chang’s Cardiac Research Institute lists the separate treatments that depend on the type of stroke experienced. 

To treat an ischaemic stroke, doctors need to restore blood flow to the brain quickly. Doctors may do this through:

  • Medication e.g. aspirin, intravenous injection of tissue plasminogen activator
  • Medications delivered directly to the brain
  • Mechanical clot removal
  • Carotid endarterectomy
  • Angioplasty and stents
  • Haemorrhagic stroke treatment

Treatment of a haemorrhagic stroke focuses on controlling the bleeding and reducing pressure in the brain. Doctors may need to do the following:

  • Surgical blood vessel repair
  • Surgical clipping
  • Coiling (endovascular embolization)
  • Surgical AVM removal
  • Intracranial bypass
  • Stereotactic radiosurgery
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