A stroke is a serious, life-threatening medical condition, and occurs when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted or reduced. This deprives the brain of oxygen and nutrients, which can cause brain cells to die.
A stroke may be caused by a blocked artery (ischemic stroke) or the leaking or bursting of a blood vessel (haemorrhagic stroke). Some people experience only a temporary disruption of blood flow to their brain (transient ischemic attack (TIA) or ‘mini-stroke’) in this case, the symptoms last for a few minutes or hours. A TIA should be treated seriously as it is a warning sign of a full stroke in the future. People can die from having a stroke or more often, left with a serious disability.
There are many risk factors for stroke but the most important are ageing, high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and HIV infection. The latter is more relevant in countries like Malawi where HIV is endemic. Identifying and treating these risk factors is an important strategy in reducing the stroke burden. Low-to-middle income countries like Malawi are seeing a rise in stroke because people are ageing; this is mainly because of improved sanitation and better management of infectious diseases.