Stroke 101 -what, how, why …

… When I look back at my postgraduate year, i’m filled with fond memories, especially memories of new friendships. However, I also remember the sympathy I felt for 2 of my Nigerian colleagues who lost their parents to stroke. Among 26 Nigerian students, 2 might seem like such a small fraction, however looking at the bigger picture, those were 2 lives, someones father and someones mother, someones brother, sister, uncle, grandfather, friend or colleague. When we look at disease and death in terms of figures they might appear inconsequential, but when we bring it home and rationalise that these are lives that could have been saved, saved by simple information and preventive measures, saved by optimum healthcare, saved by emergency and acute care. We can then understand the importance of health and of life ….

Brief Intro

Our brain, like other organs requires oxygen, and nutrients to survive and carry out cellular functions. The brain is fondly referred to as the command centre of the human body, it controls and coordinates actions and reactions, allows us to think and feel, and enables us to have memories and feelings. The brain also controls the function of other organs in the body. Damage to any part of the brain could result in severe disability and even death. So, we can say that the brain is pretty important.

A stroke in simple terms is a brain attack, it occurs when the supply of oxygen rich blood to the brain is cut off either due to a blockage or rupture of the blood vessels within or surrounding the brain resulting in severe disability or death. There are two main types of stroke; 

  1. Ischemic Stroke: This is a type of stroke caused by the blockage of cerebrovascular arteries (arteries in the brain) by a blood clot or air bubble which either originates in the brain or travels to the brain from other parts of the body such as the heart and the leg. Ischemic stroke is the most prevalent type of stroke, accounting for about 87% of all stroke cases.
  2. Hemorrhagic Stroke:This type of stroke is caused by a rupture of the cerebrovascular arteries resulting in bleeding inside the brain. The excessive bleeding and swelling of the brain prevents blood from flowing to the parts of the brain beyond the site of the rupture, starving them of required blood. Hemorrhagic strokes can also be caused by aneurysms, brain tumour, and some anticoagulant medication.
Diagram showing the two types of stroke.

Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA): This is not a subtype of stroke, rather it is refereed to as a prelude to stroke. TIA’s are called warning strokes, as they are major predictors of an impending stroke. They present with similar signs and symptoms of stroke but resolved within a few hours with no resultant disability. So often times, people might experience symptoms such as severe headache accompanied by dysarthria (slurred speech or difficulty in speaking), weakness of one side of the body. Some studies show that 10% of people who suffer a TIA go on to suffer a stroke within 90 days.

Signs & Symptoms of Stroke!

The signs and symptoms of stroke can occur rapidly without prior warning, especially in the case of a hemorrhagic stroke. However, in most situations there are early warning signs of stroke which can be identified early to prevent consequences such as severe disability or death.

  • Numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg
  • Confusion, speech problems or cognitive defects
  • Impaired or sudden loss of vision
  • Imbalance when walking
  •  Dysphagia (swallowing problems)
  • Increased or reduced muscle tone
  • Spasticity

If you suspect that you or anyone around you is experiencing any of the symptoms seen in the image below, please do not hesitate to seek urgent medical help. Call an ambulance, or get them to the nearest hospital.

Stroke is a medical emergency act FAST!!!

Can Stroke be prevented?

Largely YES!, knowing the risk factors which predispose and increase the risk of stroke is the first step in understanding how to effectively prevent and reduce your chances of developing a stroke.

Stroke Risk Factors

Risk factors for stroke can be classified as either Modifiable factors which are those that can be managed by deliberate interventions or Non-modifiable risk factors which are those risk factors that cannot be modified at all.


  • Age
  • Gender
  • Race/Ethnicity
  • Heredity


  • Hypertension
  • Obesity
  • High Cholesterol levels
  • Diabetes
  • TIA / History or previous stroke
  • Cardiac Diseases
  • Illicit drug use
  • Excessive alcohol intake
  • Cigarette smoking

Because of the importance and number of risk factors, they will be explained in future post for better insight and explanation.

Studies on stroke mortality in Nigeria, show that there is a high mortality rate among stroke sufferers. The study by Ekeh et al., 2015, revealed that Forty two (35%) out of a hundred and forty patients died. Most (76.2%) deaths occurred within the first week.

A stroke is a terrible thing to have to deal with, surviving a stroke is usually the first step in a long and strenuous journey through rehabilitation and recovery.To say prevention is cure, is an understatement when dealing with the issue of stroke. 

Juliet E.

Co-Founder – the Heart Engine


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Christian Olaiya says:

    Brilliant read however some words here are a bit too technical for me, can you kindly break down some of days technical terms for better understanding for me?

    Many thanks.


    1. Thank you Christian for reading and also for your comment. We tried to simplify the terms, however because of the nature of the disease it is accompanied by some technical names. Please highlight which words you need clarification on, and we would try as much as possible to break them down. Thanks again for following the blog.


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