Facts and FAQs

Facts about stroke in New Zealand

  • Stroke is the second largest killer in New Zealand, affecting about 9,000 people every year. Around 10 percent of stroke deaths occur in people under 65

  • Every day about 24 New Zealanders have a stroke – that’s one every hour

  • Stroke affects all ages. Around a quarter of all strokes will occur in people under the age of 65. About 40 children have a stroke every year in New Zealand

  • There are an estimated 60,000 stroke survivors in New Zealand

  • Stroke is the major cause of serious adult disability in New Zealand. Many survivors are disabled and need significant daily support. However, stroke recovery can continue throughout life

  • High blood pressure is a major cause of strokes. One in five New Zealanders has high blood pressure, and a third of these don’t know it. Reducing your blood pressure can greatly reduce stroke risk.

  • Stroke is largely preventable. Early detection and effective control of stroke risk factors can greatly reduce the possibility of stroke. The number of people suffering a stroke would be reduced by 3/4 if all recommended risk reduction strategies were taken in the community

  • Transient Ischaemic Attacks or TIAs (mini-strokes) can happen prior to a stroke. These signs of stroke disappear within minutes or hours but should be seen as a clear warning that a more severe stroke might follow. Early medical attention and treatment can prevent this. There is nothing trivial about a so-called ‘mini-stroke’ - seek medical help immediately

  • Stroke is a medical emergency, and at any sign of a stroke you must call 111.




What is a stroke?

A stroke is a brain attack – a sudden interruption of blood flow to part of the brain causing it to stop working and eventually damaging brain cells. The effects can be devastating and may last a lifetime. A stroke is also known as a cerebrovascular accident (CVA).

There are several different types of stroke, with different causes.

  • Ischaemic stroke: This is the most common type of stroke, particularly in older people. An ischaemic stroke occurs when a clot blocks an artery in the brain. The clot usually forms in a small blood vessel inside the brain that has become narrowed through high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes or smoking.

  • Embolic stroke: This occurs when a blood clot or piece of plaque (cholesterol or calcium deposits) on the wall of an artery breaks loose and travels to the brain. When this happens, the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the brain is blocked and tissue is damaged or dies.

  • Haemorrhagic stroke: This occurs when an artery in the brain ruptures (bursts) and leaks blood into the brain (cerebral haemorrhage). This break in the blood pipeline means parts of the brain are deprived of blood and a stroke occurs. Blood irritates brain tissue, causing swelling and pressure, which cause further damage and loss of function. Subarachnoid haemorrhage (SAH) is when blood leaks into the surface of the brain. Intracranial haemorrhage (ICH) is when there is bleeding into the brain tissue itself.

Read more here: What is a stroke?



What is a transient ischaemic attack (TIA)?

TIAs are often called ‘mini-strokes’. The symptoms are very similar to those of a stroke, but the effects are usually temporary, lasting less than 24-hours.  Most people who have TIAs fully recover within a few minutes or an hour.

Common symptoms may include:

  • sudden weakness and/or numbness of face, arm and/or leg especially on one side of the body

  • sudden blurred or loss of vision in one or both eyes

  • sudden difficulty speaking or understanding what others are saying

  • Sudden dizziness, loss of balance or difficulty controlling movements.

If you suspect you have had a TIA seek medical attention immediately. Never ignore the symptoms even if you fully recover. It might be a warning of a future more severe stroke, which could be prevented with treatment.

Read more here: TIAs (warning strokes or mini strokes)



What can I do to help prevent a stroke?

You can greatly reduce your chance of having a stroke by controlling risk factors. Strokes are usually the result of a combination of factors that have been present or developing for a long period of time. If someone has two or more known stroke risk factors the chances of having a stroke can dramatically increase.

Read more here: Reducing your stroke risk



What are the risk factors for a stroke?

People of all ages can suffer a stroke, but 75 percent happen in people over 65. Ischaemic strokes are the most common strokes in older people while younger people are more likely to suffer a haemorrhagic stroke. Most subarachnoid haemorrhages occur in people under 65.

In New Zealand, Māori and Pacific Islanders are more likely to suffer a stroke. Men are more likely than women, although pregnant women have a heightened risk.

Other common risk factors include:

  • family history

  • heart disease

  • heart rhythm disorders e.g. atrial fibrillation

  • smoking

  • diabetes

  • high blood cholesterol

  • high blood pressure

  • use of oral contraceptives

  • excessive alcohol intake

  • being overweight

Read more here: Reducing stroke risk



How can I tell if someone is having a stroke?

The signs and symptoms of stroke usually come on suddenly. The type of symptoms experienced will depend on what area of the brain is affected.

Common first symptoms of stroke include:

  • sudden weakness and/or numbness of face, arm and/or leg especially on one side of the body

  • sudden blurred or loss of vision in one or both eyes

  • sudden difficulty speaking or understanding what others are saying

  • sudden dizziness, loss of balance or difficulty controlling movements.

By learning to recognise the symptoms of stroke you could save a life!

Stroke is a medical emergency. Call 111 immediately if you find yourself – or see anyone else – experiencing any of the below symptoms. Not all strokes are sudden and incapacitating. The sooner medical attention is received, the less damage a stroke will cause.

Is it a stroke? Act FAST. Call 111.



Read more here: F.A.S.T.



What are the effects of stroke?

A stroke can cause permanent loss of function. Just what functions will be affected and how badly depends on what part of the brain the stroke was in and the speed and success of treatment. Strokes in the left side of the brain affect the right side of the body. A stroke in the right side of the brain results in signs and symptoms on the left side of the body.

Common long-term effects include impaired vision or speech, severe weakness or paralysis of limbs on one side of the body, swallowing difficulties, memory loss, depression and mood swings.



What is the treatment for stroke?

Prompt treatment increases the chances of survival from stroke and improves the likelihood of recovery.

Initial treatment is aimed at limiting the size of the stroke and preventing further strokes. First-line treatments commonly include medication and, in some cases, surgery to repair a ruptured blood vessel or remove a clot.

Long-term treatment involves supporting the brain to recover and for surviving brain cells to take over the functions of cells that have died or been damaged. This means the brain has to re-adapt and re-learn various skills. Recovery can take weeks and months supported by tailored rehabilitation plans developed in conjunction with the patient, their family and healthcare team.

Rehabilitation may involve:

  • physiotherapy

  • speech therapy

  • occupational therapy

Other health issues that may have contributed to the stroke, such as high blood pressure, heart rhythm problems or lifestyle behaviours are also targeted.

Sometimes the damage is permanent, and the patient must learn to live with lifetime loss of function.



What will happen to me after I've had a stroke?

A person with a suspected stroke is usually admitted to an acute medical ward or specialised stroke unit for initial testing and treatment. Later they may be transferred to a rehabilitation ward or a separate stroke rehabilitation unit.

Some people with quite mild strokes may have initial tests at the hospital and then can go home. The hospital team organises ongoing therapy, which the person will have either as an outpatient or in their home.

When a person with stroke leaves hospital they will be encouraged to do activities without the physical assistance of a therapist as much as possible. This is called a self-directed, home-based rehabilitation programme. The rehabilitation therapist will be in touch regularly to check progress.

How long a person stays in hospital depends on many factors including the speed of recovery from the stroke, how independent the person was before their stroke, how much support they have at home, how appropriate their house is for someone with a disability and how bad the stroke is.

In a small number of cases, people with a stroke are unable to return home and will need long-term care in a private hospital or rest home.

Read more here: Life after stroke

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Stroke devastates lives. 
Help us rebuild the lives of New Zealanders who experience the impact of stroke. Together, we can give them hope.