What is a stroke?
A stroke is a sudden loss of brain function caused by the interruption of the flow of blood to the brain (an ischemic stroke) or the rupture of blood vessels in the brain (a hemorrhagic stroke). You can think about stroke as a “brain attack” similar to a “heart attack”. The interruption of the blood flow or the rupture of blood vessels causes brain cells in the affected area to die. The effects of a stroke depend upon where the brain was injured, as well as how much damage occurred.
What are symptoms of a stroke?
The warning signs of stroke are caused by the sudden interruption of brain function.
- Weakness – Sudden weakness, numbness or tingling on one side of the face, arm or leg.
- Trouble Speaking – Sudden temporary loss of speech or trouble understanding speech.
- Dizziness – Sudden loss of balance, especially with any of the above signs.
- Vision Problems – Sudden loss of vision, particularly in one eye, or double vision. Also called “amaurosis fugax”
- Headache – Sudden severe and unusual headache. “the worst headache of your life”
If you are having any of the above symptoms, call 911 or have someone immediately take you to the nearest emergency medicine care provider.
What is a TIA or “mini stroke”?
The term TIA is short for “transient ischemic attack”. Transient meaning short-term or temporary and ischemic meaning a lack of blood supply. A TIA is a short-term loss of blood supply to the brain and is often called a “mini stroke”. A TIA is a very serious warning sign of an increased risk of permanent stroke. Most TIA’s last only a few minutes but can last up to 24 hours. Symptoms are the same as a full-blown stroke but they are temporary. The patient recovers without any lasting noticeable neurological problems even though there is some minor brain damage. TIA’s are different from strokes because there is complete recovery whereas strokes result in permanent neurological problems (weakness, speech problems, swallowing difficulty, etc)
What causes a stroke?
There are many causes of stroke including hemorrhagic (bleeding into the brain) and ischemic (loss of blood supply to a part of the brain). Hemorrhagic strokes make up only 15% of all strokes and they can be caused by brain aneurysms, tumors, malformations within the brain and head trauma. The majority (85%) of strokes are ischemic and can occur when blood clots are thrown into the brain from the heart or from the carotid arteries.
Carotid artery stenosis is one of the major causes of stroke or TIA. The carotid artery is the vessel that supplies blood to the brain and face. The artery becomes narrowed or blocked by a gradual build-up of fat within the artery wall, which reduces blood flow to the brain. This build-up is called “plaque”. The formation of plaque and the breaking off of clots may be responsible for stroke, TIA or transient blindness (amaurosis fugax).
How can strokes be prevented?
It is important to quit smoking. Cigarettes cause damage to the blood vessels and “thicken” the blood. This makes you prone to forming blood clots, which may lodge in the brain to cause a stroke. In addition, you need good control of your blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar. By far the biggest “bang for your buck” is realized with quitting smoking. None of the secondary measures will reduce your risk of stroke as much as complete cessation of smoking.
Strokes can also be prevented with “blood thinning” medications such as Aspirin and Plavix. Occasionally, your doctor may recommend Warfarin (also known as Coumadin). In some cases, a blockage in your carotid arteries is found to be the cause of strokes. Your doctor may recommend surgery (“carotid endarterectomy”) to correct this blockage in order to reduce your risk of subsequent strokes.
Quick Facts About Stroke
- There are between 40,000 t
- 50,000 strokes in Canada each year.
- About 300,000 Canadians are currently living with the effects of stroke.
- After age 55, the risk of stroke doubles every 10 years.
- A stroke survivor has a 20% chance of having another stroke within 2 years.
- Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in Canada.
- Each year, about 16,000 Canadians die from stroke.
- Each year, more women than men die from stroke.
- Of every 100 people who are hospitalized for stroke:
- 50 return home
- 20 die before leaving the hospital
- 10 go to an inpatient rehabilitation program
- 15 require long-term care1
- Stroke costs the Canadian economy $2.7 billion a year.
- The average acute care costs is about $27,500 per stroke
- Canadians spend a total of 3 million days in hospital because of stroke.