Stroke is the leading cause of disability among Canadian adults, and is the third leading cause of death. Approximately 14,000 Canadians die from stroke each year. Reducing your risks and knowing the signs of stroke are the best long-term protection against disability and death due to stroke.
What is a Stroke?
A stroke is caused by the sudden blockage of blood flow in the brain. The effects of the stroke will depend on the area supplied by the blocked blood vessel. Blockage in a large blood vessel supplying a large area of brain tissue will potentially cause more widespread damage than blockage in a smaller vessel supplying a smaller area. In any case, prompt treatment is critical, even if symptoms spontaneously resolve.
The quick restoration of bloodflow is essential in reducing permanent damage to brain cells, which die at a rate of two million per minute following a stroke. If you suspect you, or a loved one, are having a stroke, call 9-1-1 immediately. Clot-busting medication can be administered within minutes by paramedics prior to transfer to a hospital.
What are the Signs of Stroke?
Because the effects of stroke depend on the area of brain affected by the blockage, signs may vary. In 2014 the Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation developed and promoted the FAST mnemonic to help Canadians to quickly recognize major signs of stroke and take quick action. Knowing these signs can help you identify a potential stroke in progress and play a critical role in minimizing the chance of disability or death:
- Face: is it drooping?
- Arms: can you raise both?
- Speech: is it slurred or jumbled?
- Time: call 9-1-1 immediately
Am I at Risk of Having a Stroke?
Stroke can happen to anybody, at any age. However, the risk of stroke rises sharply after age 55. There are several factors that can put people at higher risk of stroke, but the good news is that many of these are modifiable.
High blood pressure is the strongest risk factor for a stroke. High blood pressure damages arteries throughout the body, allowing them to burst or clog more easily. When this happens in the brain, the risk of stroke is high. Managing high blood pressure is critical in lowering stroke risk.
Other medical risk factors for stroke include obesity, smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol, and atrial fibrillation (Afib). Maintaining a healthy diet and weight, quitting smoking, and ensuring effective medical control of diabetes, cholesterol and atrial fibrillation will help reduce your stroke risk.
Additional factors such as family history, age, diet and activity level may play a role in your risk of stroke. The Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation offers a free online risk calculator with follow-up support to help you identify and manage your stroke risk.
Support Following a Stroke
Treatment following a stroke will focus on restoring, or adapting to, loss of function. While some functions lost to damaged brain tissue can be taken up by other areas of the brain through re-training, in some cases recovery may focus on developing new skills to compensate for lost function. Following exercise programs and other recommendations of the specialists on your recovery team will help ensure the best possible recovery.
If you need support in successfully implementing your recovery program, Retire At Home offers a broad range of services to help patients and caregivers keep on track with recommendations. Contact us today for a free in-home assessment of your needs.