A stroke, also known as a cerebrovascular accident (CVA), is a medical condition that occurs when there is a sudden disruption of blood supply to the brain. This disruption can result in damage to brain cells due to the lack of oxygen and nutrients. Strokes are a medical emergency and require prompt intervention to minimize potential long-term consequences.

There are two main types of strokes:

  1. Ischemic Stroke:
    • This is the most common type of stroke, accounting for the majority of cases. It occurs when a blood vessel supplying the brain becomes blocked or narrowed, leading to a reduction or cessation of blood flow. The blockage is often caused by a blood clot, either within the blood vessel (thrombus) or one that has traveled from another part of the body (embolus).
  2. Hemorrhagic Stroke:
    • This type of stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures, leading to bleeding within or around the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes can result from conditions such as uncontrolled high blood pressure, aneurysms, or vascular malformations.

Risk factors that contribute to the development of strokes include:

  • High Blood Pressure (Hypertension): Elevated blood pressure is a major risk factor for both ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes.
  • Smoking: Tobacco smoke contains chemicals that can damage blood vessels and increase the risk of clot formation.
  • Diabetes: Uncontrolled diabetes can contribute to atherosclerosis and increase the risk of blood vessel damage.
  • High Cholesterol: Elevated levels of cholesterol can contribute to the formation of plaques in blood vessels.
  • Heart Disease: Conditions such as atrial fibrillation, heart valve disorders, and certain congenital heart defects can increase the risk of embolic strokes.
  • Age and Gender: The risk of stroke increases with age, and men are generally at a higher risk than premenopausal women. However, the risk becomes more equal after menopause.

Other factors that may contribute to stroke risk include obesity, physical inactivity, excessive alcohol consumption, and a family history of stroke.

Strokes occur when there is a disruption of blood flow to the brain, leading to damage of brain cells. The specific cause of a stroke depends on the type of stroke, and there are two main types: ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes.

  1. Ischemic Stroke:
    • Thrombotic Stroke: This type of ischemic stroke occurs when a blood clot (thrombus) forms within a blood vessel supplying the brain. The clot may develop in a blood vessel already narrowed by atherosclerosis.
    • Embolic Stroke: An embolic stroke happens when a blood clot or other debris forms in another part of the body (often the heart) and travels through the bloodstream to the brain, causing a blockage in a smaller blood vessel.
  2. Hemorrhagic Stroke:
    • Intracerebral Hemorrhage: This type of hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel within the brain ruptures and leaks blood into the surrounding brain tissue.
    • Subarachnoid Hemorrhage: A subarachnoid hemorrhage occurs when there is bleeding into the space between the brain and the thin tissues that cover it (subarachnoid space). This can be caused by a ruptured aneurysm or other vascular malformations.

The acronym “FAST” is often used to help recognise the signs of a stroke:

  • F: Face drooping
  • A: Arm weakness
  • S: Speech difficulty
  • T: Time to call emergency services

Immediate medical attention is crucial for someone experiencing a stroke. Timely intervention, such as administering clot-busting medications (if applicable) or other medical procedures, can help minimise brain damage and improve outcomes.

The diagnosis of a stroke involves a combination of clinical evaluation, medical history, and diagnostic tests to determine the type of stroke and guide appropriate treatment. Rapid diagnosis is crucial because timely intervention can significantly improve outcomes. The diagnostic process for a stroke typically includes the following steps:

  1. Clinical Assessment:
    • A healthcare professional will conduct a thorough examination, assessing the individual’s symptoms, medical history, and risk factors. Specific attention is given to neurological symptoms, such as weakness, speech difficulties, and visual changes.
  2. Use of Stroke Scales:
    • Stroke scales, such as the National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale (NIHSS), are often used to quantify the severity of stroke symptoms. These scales help in determining the appropriate course of action and treatment.
  3. Imaging Studies:
    • Computed Tomography (CT) Scan: A CT scan of the brain is often performed initially to differentiate between ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes. It helps identify bleeding, blood clots, or other abnormalities.
    • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): An MRI may provide more detailed images of the brain, helping to assess the extent of damage and identify smaller or subtler strokes.
  4. Angiography:
    • Cerebral Angiography: This imaging technique involves injecting contrast dye into blood vessels to visualise the arteries of the brain. It can help identify blockages or abnormalities that may have caused the stroke.
  5. Blood Tests:
    • Blood tests may be conducted to assess various factors, including blood sugar levels, cholesterol levels, and coagulation status. These tests can provide information about underlying conditions or risk factors.
  6. Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG):
    • An ECG may be performed to evaluate the heart’s rhythm and detect conditions such as atrial fibrillation, which can increase the risk of embolic strokes.
  7. Carotid Ultrasound:
    • Ultrasound imaging of the carotid arteries may be done to assess for the presence of plaques or blockages that could contribute to a stroke.
  8. Lumbar Puncture (Spinal Tap):
    • In some cases, a lumbar puncture may be performed to analyse cerebrospinal fluid. This is less common but may be done to rule out other causes of neurological symptoms.

The combination of these diagnostic tools helps healthcare professionals determine the type of stroke, its location, and potential causes. Treatment decisions, whether involving clot-busting medications for ischemic strokes or interventions to address bleeding in hemorrhagic strokes, are based on this diagnostic information. In acute situations, the priority is to initiate appropriate treatment promptly, often within the first few hours after the onset of symptoms.


The long-term symptoms of a stroke can vary widely depending on the severity of the stroke, the areas of the brain affected, and the success of rehabilitation efforts. Stroke survivors may experience a range of physical, cognitive, and emotional challenges. Common long-term symptoms and complications include:

  1. Physical Impairments:
    • Weakness or Paralysis: Depending on the location of the stroke, individuals may experience weakness or paralysis on one side of the body (hemiparesis or hemiplegia).
    • Spasticity: Involuntary muscle contractions and stiffness can occur, making movement difficult.
    • Balance and Coordination Issues: Stroke survivors may have difficulty maintaining balance and coordinating movements.
  2. Cognitive Impairments:
    • Memory Problems: Some individuals may experience difficulties with short-term or long-term memory.
    • Cognitive Processing: Stroke survivors may face challenges with attention, concentration, and problem-solving.
    • Language and Communication Issues: Aphasia, a language impairment, may affect the ability to speak, understand, read, or write.
  3. Emotional and Psychological Effects:
    • Depression and Anxiety: The emotional impact of a stroke, combined with physical changes, may contribute to feelings of depression or anxiety.
    • Emotional Lability: Uncontrollable and unpredictable mood swings can occur.
    • Post-Stroke Fatigue: Persistent fatigue is a common long-term symptom that can impact daily activities.
  4. Sensory Changes:
    • Visual Impairments: Stroke survivors may experience visual field deficits or other vision problems.
    • Changes in Sensation: Altered sensations, such as numbness or tingling, may persist.
  5. Communication Challenges:
    • Dysarthria: Difficulty in articulating words or forming clear speech sounds.
    • Dysphagia: Difficulty swallowing, which can lead to a risk of aspiration and other complications.
  6. Activities of Daily Living (ADL) Challenges:
    • Stroke survivors may face difficulties with self-care activities, such as dressing, grooming, and bathing.
  7. Chronic Health Conditions:
    • Stroke survivors may be at an increased risk of developing other chronic health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or recurrent strokes.
  8. Social and Vocational Challenges:
    • Returning to work or resuming social activities may be challenging, and individuals may experience changes in roles and relationships.

Recovery from a stroke is an ongoing process, and the extent of improvement can vary among individuals. Rehabilitation, including physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy, plays a crucial role in maximising functional abilities. Support from healthcare professionals, caregivers, and support groups is essential for managing long-term challenges and optimising the quality of life for stroke survivors.

How Can We Help?

Physiotherapy & Exercise Physiology

Physiotherapists and Exercise Physiologists will look at your movement, strength, coordination and balance. They may also review any pain or fatigue you may be experiencing. They will then discuss goals important to you and assist you to develop a plan to achieve those goals using evidence based treatments. Your treatment program may contain a range of exercises or strategies to help you to improve mobility, balance, and daily function.

Physiotherapists may also make recommendations regarding mobility equipment and advise you on safe ways to keep moving and prevent falls.


Occupational Therapists will assess how well you are managing day-to-day tasks, such as, eating, dressing, cooking, and bed mobility. This means that their assessments are sometimes completed in the home environment.

Occupational Therapists can teach strategies and recommend equipment to make your home safer and more accessible.


Speech Pathologists will assess and provide therapy for communication and/or swallowing difficulties that have been caused by stroke. They can assist with all aspects of communication including talking, auditory comprehension, reading, writing, voice, facial weakness and social communication. They will help you achieve improved communication skills through various exercises and techniques including speech exercises, voice and breath support exercises, tailoring therapy to your needs. They can also assist in the use of a communication device when necessary. Speech Pathologists also assess and treat swallowing difficulties to help you enjoy your mealtimes safely.

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