Stroke: Major cause of death in the Western world

Every year, 50,000 compatriots suffer a stroke. This brain disorder is the leading cause of death in the Western world after heart attacks and cancer. In the usually spoken colloquial language it is ‘attack’. The medical abbreviation for a stroke is CVA and stands for cerebrovascular accident (an accident in the blood vessels of the brain).

What is a stroke?

Brain cells, like other body cells, need nutrients. Otherwise they don’t function. They obtain these necessary components from the blood. If the blood supply stops for any reason, the brain sputters. The blood supply to the brain can be interrupted in two ways:

  • a blood vessel in the brain is blocked by a blood clot.
  • a blood vessel in the brain ruptures.

Usually (80% of cases) a blood clot is the cause of a stroke . If the blood clot is formed in the blood vessels of the brain, it is called a cerebral thrombosis . If the blood clot comes from outside the brain, it is called a cerebral embolism . In both cases, the result is the same: reduced blood flow to the brain.

Sometimes (20% of cases) the cause of a stroke is not a blood clot but a cerebral hemorrhage . A cerebral hemorrhage is caused by a rupture of a cerebral blood vessel. Causes of a blood vessel rupture are: accident, increased blood pressure or predisposition.

Alarm signals

  • sudden sensory disturbances in the arm, leg or face.
  • sudden paralysis of the arm, leg or face.
  • sudden confusion, difficulty speaking or understanding people.
  • sudden complaints of seeing out of one or both eyes.
  • sudden difficulty walking, dizziness or balance disorders.
  • sudden, very severe headache.

The nature and severity of a stroke depend on the location in the brain that is affected and the number of brain cells that are affected. Usually the first complaints seem harmless, but quick action is necessary. The faster you respond (call a doctor or emergency service – which number) the less brain damage will occur.


A mini-stroke, also called TIA ( Transient Ischemic Attack ), occurs when the blood supply to a certain part of the brain is briefly interrupted. A TIA usually lasts less than 20 minutes and the symptoms often disappear after a day. It is impossible to distinguish between a stroke and a TIA at the time the symptoms occur.

Risk factors

There are several parameters that promote the development of a stroke. The more risk factors, the greater the chance of having a stroke.

  • Age: the older you are, the greater the risk of a stroke.
  • Gender: Men are at greater risk than women.
  • Family predisposition: hereditary factors play a role.
  • High blood pressure or hypertension.
  • Too much cholesterol.
  • Heart disease (artificial heart valve, myocardial infarction).
  • Diabetes or diabetes.
  • Smoking.
  • Insufficient exercise.
  • overweight
  • Alcohol: More than 2 glasses of beer or wine per day significantly increases the risk of stroke.


The therapy depends on the type of stroke . Anticoagulants are usually administered in the event of a cerebral infarction. This reduces the chance that an existing blood clot will become larger or that a new blood clot will form. In a limited number of cases, the doctor decides to treat the blood clot with clot-dissolving medicines. In the case of a cerebral hemorrhage, the bruising puts extra pressure on the brain. Here the treatment mainly consists of reducing the pressure in the skull. Surgical intervention is sometimes necessary in this case. After treatment of the acute complaints, rehabilitation starts . The goal is to allow the patient to live as normal a life as quickly as possible.