What is a stroke?

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The term stroke, derived from the Latin word ictus meaning ‘a blow’, is used to describe the consequences when an area of the brain suffers a sudden interruption in blood flow (ischaemic stroke, 85% of cases) or a burst artery or vein (haemorrhagic stroke, 15% of cases).

If part of the brain receives poor blood flow its function may be temporarily or permanently changed. Other common names for stroke include brain haemorrhage, embolism, cerebral thrombosis and apoplexy.

Types of Stroke?

There are two types of stroke, defined by the mechanism:

  • Ischaemic strokes (or cerebral infarctions) are due to obstructed blood flow.
  • Haemorrhagic strokes (or cerebral haemorrhage) occur when a vessel ruptures and bleeds into the brain, which compresses surrounding central nervous system structures.

Patients presenting similar symptoms may have suffered a stroke via different mechanisms. Identifying the cause of the stroke is of paramount importance as it represents the treatment determining factor both in the acute phase and in the therapeutic strategy to prevent a recurrence.

How many people does it affect?

One in six people will suffer a stroke during their lifetime. The Spanish population suffers a stroke every six minutes, leading to the death of one patient every 14 minutes. Stroke is the second most common cause of death worldwide. It results in over 6 million deaths per year and in Spain it represents the leading cause of death in women.

Stroke is the main cause of physical disability in adults and the second cause of cognitive impairment. In fact it is responsible for more cases of disability than all other neurological diseases combined. For these reasons, the direct healthcare costs of stroke in industrialised countries are already very high and predicted to increase in coming years due to an ageing population.

Substantiated information by:
Ángel ChamorroNeurologist — Neurology DepartmentArturo RenúNeurologist — Neurology DepartmentAntonia FernándezNurse — Neurology DepartmentXabier UrraNeurologist — Neurology Department

Published: 20 February 2018
Updated: 20 February 2018

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