A stroke is a sudden loss of brain function. It is caused by the interruption of blood flow to the brain (ischemic stroke) or the rupture of a blood vessel in the brain (hemorrhagic stroke).
As a result of this disruption in blood flow or ruptured blood vessel, brain cells (neurons) in the affected area die. The after-effects of a stroke depend on the part of the brain involved and the extent of the damage. A stroke can impact any number of faculties, including the ability to walk, see, remember, talk, reason, read and write.
- In Canada, a stroke occurs every 9 minutes.
- Every year, 62,000 Canadians die or are left severely disabled following a stroke.
- For every minute delay in treating a stroke, a patient loses 1.9 million brain cells.
Stroke warning signs
A stroke can be treated, which is why it’s so important to know its warning signs:
- Weakness - Sudden loss of strength or sudden numbness in the face, arm or leg, even if temporary
- Trouble speaking - Sudden difficulty speaking or understanding or sudden confusion, even if temporary
- Vision problems - Sudden trouble with vision, even if temporary
- Headache - Sudden severe and unusual headache
- Dizziness - Sudden loss of balance, especially if accompanied by the other warning signs
If you recognize any of these signs, dial 911 immediately.
Stroke risk factors
- Age: For every decade over the age of 55, the risk for stroke doubles
- Gender: Men are more likely to have a stroke, but women tend to die more often from it
- Family history
- Ethnicity (Aboriginal peoples and people of African, South Asian or Hispanic descent)
- History of stroke or TIA (transient ischemic attack or mini-stroke)
Other risk factors you can control
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Heart disease – atrial fibrillation
- Being overweight (BMI)
- Excessive alcohol intake
- Poor diet/high-salt diet
- Lack of physical exercise
Questions on strokes or other types of heart disease? Ask your family pharmacist to help you assess your risk for heart disease.