Think FAST when it comes to stroke

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  • Post category:2024 / Brain

As we head towards Brain Awareness Week next month, we thought we’d take a closer look at one of the most common brain diseases – stroke.

Stroke is the third most common cause of death in Australia and a leading cause of disability. It affects around 55,000 Australian’s annually. The good news, however, is that 80% of strokes can be prevented.

What is stroke?

A stroke is what happens when the blood flow to your brain is stopped or disrupted. It is an emergency situation and can happen to anyone at any time.

In order to work effectively, your brain needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients, which come from the blood that flows to it. If the supply of blood or oxygen is stopped for any period of time, even just a short while, your brain cells will begin to die and may suffer permanent damage.

There are two kinds of stroke:

  1. Ischemic – the most common type. It occurs when a major blood vessel in the brain is blocked, either by a blood clot or a build up of fatty deposit and cholesterol, called plaque. There are two types of ischaemic strokes:
  • Thrombotic – from a clot or blockage in a blood vessel in your brain.
  • Embolic – from a clot that forms elsewhere in your body that then travels to block a blood vessel that supplies your brain.
  1. Haemorrhagic – occurs when the wall of a blood vessel in your brain suddenly breaks and causes a bleed in your brain. This type can also be caused by a cerebral aneurysm bursting as a result of sudden pressure or trauma. There are two types of haemorrhagic strokes:
  • Intracerebral – when an artery in your brain bursts and bleeds.
  • Subarachnoid – when a bleed occurs in the space surrounding your brain.


The most common symptoms of a stroke include weakness or numbness of the face, arm or leg and usually on one side of the body, as well as difficulty with speaking or understanding others.

Other symptoms that may occur include:

  • Dizziness, loss of balance or an unexplained fall
  • Loss of vision, sudden blurring or decreased vision in one or both eyes
  • Headache, usually severe and sudden
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Sudden nausea or vomiting

The F.A.S.T test, as recommended by the Stroke Foundation, is an easy way to spot the signs of stroke:

  • Face drooping – one side of the face is drooping or numb or their smile appears uneven.
  • Arm weakness – one arm is weak or numb and when both arms are lifted at the same time, one arm may drift downward.
  • Speech difficulty – there may be slurred speech or difficulty with speaking and the person may be unable to repeat a simple sentence correctly.
  • Time – is critical. Phone 000 for an ambulance straight away if you notice any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms improve or go away.


As seen is this video, symptoms can happen suddenly and may vary with each person, so it is important to act fast.

Some symptoms can disappear quickly, which may indicate a transient ischaemic attach (TIA) or a mini-stroke, which is a warning sign that a stroke is about to occur.

A stroke is a medical emergency that can lead to death or disability, so it is important to act straight away. If you notice any signs of stroke, call 000 and request an ambulance for urgent assistance.

A stroke can result in long-term complications, including:

  • Weakness or paralysis of limbs
  • Difficulty speaking or swallowing
  • Difficulty reading or writing
  • Shoulder pain
  • Fatigue
  • Sensory changes – things feeling different when you touch them
  • Perceptual changes – changes to how you see or understand things
  • Difficulty thinking or remembering
  • Incontinence
  • Problems controlling feelings and emotions
  • Depression

How is it treated?

In the first instance, you will need to undertake a number of tests to confirm the diagnosis and determine the type of stroke, as well as any areas of the brain that may have been affected.

Your treatment will depend on what caused your stroke and may involve certain medications, surgery and rehabilitation.


The best way to prevent your risk of stroke is by maintaining a healthy lifestyle and that includes:

  • Staying active – by including 30 minutes or more of moderate physical activity most days of the week.
  • Eating well – by eating a variety of foods that are high in fibre, fruit, nuts, vegetables and healthy fats but low in saturated fat and salt.
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight.
  • Drinking alcohol in moderation – limit alcohol intake to no more than 2 standard drinks per day if you are male and 1 standard drink per day if you are female.
  • Quitting smoking.
  • Working with your doctor to treat any medical conditions that increase your risk of stroke, such as high blood pressure or diabetes.


If you have any concerns about your risk of stroke or general health, make an appointment with your GP. Appointments at Illawarra Medical Centre can be made online or by contacting us on (08) 9208 6400.

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