There are an estimated 50,000 strokes every year in Canada – or one every 10 minutes – and more than 400,000 Canadians are living with long-term disability from the effects of experiencing a stroke. In British Columbia, nearly 5,000 strokes occur every year making them a major cause of death and disability in the province. But the good news is, almost 80% of strokes are preventable, and for the ones that do occur, there are actions you can take to mitigate the severity.
June is Stroke Awareness Month in Canada, a campaign created by the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada to educate Canadians on the importance of fighting heart disease and stroke. With so many Canadians living with a stroke-induced disability, it’s important to understand the potential risk of being diagnosed with this disease – especially women who are at higher risk – as well as how to spot the signs of stroke.
A stroke happens when there is a sudden interruption of blood flow to any part of the brain, damaging cells. The effects depend on the area of the brain damaged, as well as the amount of damage done.
Ischemic Stroke: the most common type of stroke caused by a blockage or clot in a blood vessel in the brain. The blockage can sometimes be caused by a build-up of plaque in an artery.
Hemorrhagic Stroke: happens when an artery in the brain ruptures and the resulting interruption to blood flow causes damage to the brain. High blood pressure is a common cause of this type of stroke.
Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA): also known as a mini-stroke or a warning stroke, it is caused by a small clot that briefly blocks an artery. While symptoms are temporary, a TIA can be a warning sign of something more serious.
The symptoms of stroke come on suddenly, usually without any warning, and require immediate attention. It takes just minutes for brain cells to start dying, but the risk of disability decreases when appropriate medical attention is received. If you think someone may be having a stroke, remembering the FAST test could make all the difference.
F – Face: is their face drooping? Ask them to smile to see if it is normal.
A – Arms: can they raise both arms?
S – Speech: is their speech slurred or jumbled?
T – Time: if you observe any of these signs, immediately call 9-1-1.
Other signs to watch out for
In addition to the FAST method, there are other less common signs of stroke including:
Almost 80% of strokes can be prevented by making healthy choices and managing risk factors. So while some risk factors can’t be changed – such as family history, heritage, age – there are many things you can do to decrease your chance of stroke. Simple steps such as: reducing the stress in your life, eating a healthy diet that includes more fruits and vegetables, being physically active, limiting your alcohol consumption, and not smoking can all help.
The Heart & Stroke Foundation also has many resources on how to adopt a healthier lifestyle, and more information on strokes and stroke prevention can be found at The Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada or Stroke Services BC.