A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is interrupted or reduced, depriving brain tissue of oxygen and nutrients. This can lead to brain damage, disability, or even death.

Understanding the causes of strokes is essential for prevention and effective treatment, so here we cover the primary causes of strokes, focusing on ischemic strokes, transient ischemic attacks, and the role of chronic inflammation.

Ischemic strokes

The majority of strokes are ischemic strokes (around 85% of strokes in the UK according to The Stroke Association), which occur when a blood vessel supplying blood to the brain is obstructed. This blockage can result from either plaque buildup or a blood clot.

Plaque-related ischemic strokes happen when fatty deposits, or plaques, accumulate in the arteries, a condition known as atherosclerosis. These plaques can narrow the arteries, reducing blood flow to the brain. If a plaque ruptures, it can cause a blood clot to form at the site, further blocking the artery.

Blood clot-related ischemic strokes are often caused by clots that travel through the bloodstream from another part of the body, a condition known as embolism. These clots can originate from the heart, especially in those with heart conditions like atrial fibrillation, which can cause blood to pool and clot in the heart’s chambers. When these clots break free, they can travel to the brain and obstruct blood flow, leading to an ischemic stroke.

Transient ischemic attack

A transient ischemic attack (TIA), often referred to as a ‘mini stroke’, is a temporary period of symptoms similar to those of a stroke. A TIA occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is briefly interrupted, usually lasting only a few minutes, and causing no permanent damage.

TIAs are often caused by small blood clots or debris that temporarily block an artery in the brain. Although the symptoms resolve quickly, a TIA serves as a warning sign that a more severe stroke may occur in the future.

Recognising and treating the underlying causes of a TIA is crucial to prevent a full-blown stroke. Common symptoms include sudden numbness or weakness, particularly on one side of the body, sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech, sudden vision changes, and sudden difficulty walking or loss of balance.

Chronic inflammation

Chronic inflammation is a prolonged inflammatory response that can have various adverse effects on the body, including increasing the risk of stroke. Inflammation can damage blood vessels and contribute to the buildup of plaques in the arteries, leading to atherosclerosis. This process narrows the arteries and increases the likelihood of clots forming and causing an ischemic stroke.

It can also destabilise existing plaques, making them more likely to rupture and cause a clot to form at the site. Conditions such as chronic infections, autoimmune diseases, and lifestyle factors like smoking, obesity, and poor diet can all contribute to chronic inflammation.

The cause of a stroke will determine how it should be treated. For ischemic strokes, treatment may involve medications to dissolve clots or prevent further clotting, and in some cases, surgical procedures to remove blockages. Managing risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes is also crucial in preventing strokes.

If you have recently suffered a stroke or are concerned about your risk, it is essential to seek professional medical advice. Book an appointment with Dr Konrad Grosser to receive an expert evaluation and tailored treatment plan to safeguard your health.