We talked to Mr. JK Wicks, one of Specialist Vein Health’s vascular surgeons about what you need to know about STROKES – also known as a CVA, or cerebrovascular accident.

The first thing you need to know is that a stroke is a medical emergency. They occur when the blood supply to the brain becomes blocked.  This means you should seek medical help as soon as possible.  Here is what Mr Wicks says you need to know about a stroke:

Top three facts on strokes:

  • During a stroke, a brain does not receive enough oxygen because the blood supply becomes blocked – causing brain cells to die.
  • Strokes need to be diagnosed and treated as quickly as possible to minimise brain damage.
  • Treatment depends on the type of stroke.

What are the most common symptoms of a stroke?

  • Trouble walking, speaking or swallowing.
  • Paralysis, weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg.
  • Persistent, painful headache.
  • Blurred or loss of vision.
  • Altered sensations.

What type of strokes are there?

  • Mini-strokes – or TIAs (similar symptoms to a stroke, however most patients fully recover within a few minutes or an hour).
  • Ischemic stroke (the most common type)
  • Hemorrhagic stroke

Ischemic Strokes are the only kind of strokes our vascular surgeons treat.  Mr. Wicks says this type of stroke is caused by arteries that carry blood to the brain becoming blocked or narrowed. The brain depends on it’s arteries to bring oxygenated blood  and nutrients up from your heart and lungs.  If an artery is blocked, the brain cells will eventually stop working and possibly die.  This is why immediate medical diagnosis and treatment is paramount. 

What are the causes of a ischemic stroke?  There can be many causes of this type of stroke, but the two most common causes are: 

  1.  Narrowing of the arteries in the neck or head.  This is mostly caused by atherosclerosis.  Atherosclerosis is the build up of plaque/cholesterol  inside the artery wall. If the artery becomes too narrow, blood cells may collect and form blood clots.  These blood clots (thrombosis) can block the artery or dislodge and move up the arteries closer to the brain  – this is called an embolism.

    2.  Blood clots in the heart, which may occur because of an abnormal heart rhythm, heart attack or abnormalities of the heart valves.

We ask Mr. Wicks if all ischemic strokes are the same?  The answer – No. 

1. Thrombotic stroke – caused by a blood clot (thrombus)

2. Embolic stroke – caused by a wandering clot usually formed in the heart or neck arteries. 

What are the  risk factors?

  • Smoking
  • High cholesterol
  • Age (over 60)
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Peripheral Artery Disease (PAD) or Coronary artery disease (CAD)
  • Family history

Vascular surgical treatment focuses on restoring adequate flow of blood to the brain.   Mr Wicks says when a person has a stroke they are at risk of having another one, depending here the source of the stroke is.  

-If you have a serious blockage in your carotid (neck) artery you may need what is called a carotid endarterectomy.  This procedure is done either ‘open’ – which means it is surgery or an angiogram with the use of balloons (this is called angioplasty) and the placement of a carotid stent.  

Mr. Wicks or Dr Lupe Taumopeau will discuss what is the best treatment plan for you following tests which may include – blood tests, an ultrasound and or CTA scan.  Your surgeon will discuss treatment options and all potential risks with you – following these tests.

How do I prevent strokes?

  • The most effective way to prevent strokes is through a healthy lifestyle. 
  • Blood pressure control
  • Reducing weight
  • Quitting smoking
  • Regular exercise
  • Treating underlying conditions that could be a risk factor

If you think you or someone you know is suffering a stroke, call 111 immediately.  Know the signs – think FAST

If you would like to book an appointment with one of our vascular surgeons contact us today.