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Updated 15 August 2022 | Approved By

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Stroke – Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

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What is Stroke?

A stroke is when the blood flow to the brain is disrupted or stopped. The nutrients and oxygen in the bloodstream are important for keeping the brain functioning and alive. This is a medical emergency that can be fatal and requires immediate attention. According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 387,000 Australians over 15 years have experienced at least one stroke [1]. Men are more than 40% more likely to suffer a stroke than women. Around two out of every three strokes in Australia occur in those over the age of 65. A stroke can cause significant disability and even death. If the brain's blood supply stops, it can cause infarction or brain damage. If you or someone nearby suspects a stroke, please call 000 for an ambulance.

Types of Stroke

Several different types of strokes can occur. Any of these can lead to the blocked blood supply to the brain, leading to disability and death.

Ischaemic Stroke

An ischaemic stroke occurs when a blood clot blocks the blood supply to the brain. There are two categories of ischaemic stroke called a thrombotic and embolic stroke. A thrombotic stroke develops when a clot forms in the blood vessels towards the brain. This can occur as fat and cholesterol build up in the vessels. An embolic stroke occurs when the blood clot dislodges from another part of the body and travels towards the brain via the bloodstream.

Haemorrhagic Stroke

A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when blood leaks and pools into the brain from a weakened blood vessel(s) [2]. The pressure from the pooled blood compresses the brain tissue. There are two different types of hemorrhagic stroke, depending on the location of the bleed. An intracerebral stroke occurs when the blood pools inside the brain. On the other hand, a subarachnoid haemmhorage develops and begins to collect between layers outside the brain and skull [3].

Signs Of Stroke

Having a stroke is a medical emergency that requires urgent treatment. If you are experiencing or suspect someone else is having a stroke, please call 000 immediately. According to the Australian Stroke Foundation, there are several key signs of stroke that should not be ignored; these include [4]:
  • Facial drooping (e.g. eyes and mouth begin to droop)
  • Unable to lift arms
  • Slurring speech
Other signs of stroke also include:
  • Weakness, paralysis and numbness
  • Dizziness and losing balance
  • Loss of vision
  • Headaches (click here to read more)
  • Dysphagia (e.g. difficulty swallowing)


Signs and Symptoms After A Stroke

Symptoms of stroke can persist afterwards, especially if treatment is delayed. These symptoms can either be mild or severe, depending on the stroke's size and/or location. After having a stroke, these symptoms can cause disability and impact quality of life. Examples of these symptoms include:
  • Weakness and paralysis on one or both sides of the body
  • Difficulty creating speech and talking
  • Numbness, tingling and pain
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Lacking awareness


What Causes a Stroke?

There are several risk factors and causes of stroke. Ischaemic strokes are caused by blood clots blocking blood flow to the brain. These blood clots develop due to the narrowing of blood vessels and a buildup of fatty lumps. Although this can develop over time, certain circumstances can speed this process [5].
  • Hyperlipidaemia (high levels of fat in the blood - read more here)
  • Smoking
  • Physical inactivity
  • Diabetes
  • Alcohol consumption
  • Previous heart problems
  • Being overweight or obese
On the other hand, hemorrhagic strokes occur when the blood vessel bursts due to high pressure and thinner vessel walls. While similar, it has its own risk factors which increase the chance of causing this dangerous event.

Tests and Diagnosis

If a stroke is suspected, urgent medical testing and treatment is required. As soon as you are taken to the hospital, tests will be performed to help diagnose a stroke [6].

Physical Assessment

A doctor may perform a physical assessment to see the state of your brain and nervous system after/during a stroke. Examples of tests that may be performed in the presence of a stroke includes:
  • Speech
  • Movement
  • Vital signs (e.g. heart rate, blood pressure, temperature, etc.)
  • Vision
  • Heart


Brain Scans

CT scans and MRI imaging (read our guides here) can create detailed pictures of the brain. They will be able to show any damage or swelling in the brain. These images can show the location, severity and type of stroke in the brain. Other scans that can be performed to help diagnose stroke include transcranial doppler, cerebral angiogram, carotid duplex and X-rays.

Heart Tests

Heart tests can be performed to see whether an underlying heart problem might be responsible for a stroke. An electrocardiogram (ECG) shows the pattern and rate of your heartbeats. An echocardiogram is an ultrasound of the heart that looks for any abnormal changes or clots. Treatment for any abnormalities related to the stroke may be required.

Blood Tests

A sample of your blood may be taken to the laboratory for analysis. While it typically isn't used to diagnose stroke, it may help provide information about what caused your stroke.

Stroke Treatment

Hospital Care

If a stroke is suspected or occurring, urgent hospital care is required. Please call 000 for immediate assistance. Treatment will be provided depending on the findings from the tests. Treatment for ischaemic stroke will involve procedures and medications that help break up the clot [6]. In comparison, procedures that minimise pressure on the brain are essential for treating hemorrhagic stroke [7]. Early and appropriate treatment is vital for reducing brain damage.

Treatment Post-Stroke

Depending on the stroke's size, severity and location, there could be several lingering disabilities. These may be either temporary or long-term. However, seeking early treatment can help with recovery. After being discharged from the hospital or rehabilitation, it's essential to see your GP for guidance about any of the following issues after stroke [8]:
  • Dysphagia (difficulty swallowing)
  • Dehydration and malnutrition
  • Issues with communication
  • Reduced mobility
  • Difficulties performing personal or home tasks (e.g. cooking, showering, etc.)
  • Incontinence (e.g. bowel and bladder problems)
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Cognitive challenges
  • Sleep apnoea
Your GP may be able to recommend or refer any services that may help treat these problems, such as:
  • Speech therapy
  • Physiotherapy
  • Occupational therapy
  • Psychologist
  • Dietician
  • Speech pathologist
  • Sleep specialist


Stroke Recovery

Recovery from a stroke can vary depending on how the stroke occurred. It's crucial to receive immediate medical attention to help speed up recovery. Your GP will guide you about what potential treatments may be beneficial.


Common complications that can occur after stroke include [8]:

Receiving quality care from highly experienced doctors is essential for a prompt diagnosis and receiving the correct medical treatment. With 24-7 MedCare, you can experience telemedicine from the convenience of your own home. Our friendly online doctors will be available 24/7 for a consultation, anytime and anywhere in Australia.

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  5. Boehme, A. K., Esenwa, C., & Elkind, M. S. (2017). Stroke risk factors, genetics, and prevention. Circulation research, 120(3), 472-495.
  7. Unnithan, A. K. A., Das, J. M., & Mehta, P. (2022). Hemorrhagic stroke. In StatPearls [Internet]. StatPearls Publishing. Dewey, H. M., & Bernhardt, J. (2007). Acute stroke patients: Early hospital management. Australian family physician, 36(11).