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Stroke is the third leading cause of death in Canada.  Seven percent of all deaths in Canada are due to stroke, after cancer and heart disease.  It is also a leading cause of adult disability.  Although more strokes occur among the elderly, stroke is also a major cause of disability among the middle aged.


Warning signs

Anyone having a stroke should seek medical attention immediately.  Stroke can be best treated within 3 hours of occurrence.  These are warning signs:

  • Sudden weakness or numbness of the face, arm, or leg on one side of the body
  • Sudden dimness or loss of vision, particularly in only one eye
  • Loss of speech or trouble talking or understanding speech
  • Sudden, severe headaches with no known cause
  • Unexplained dizziness, unsteadiness or sudden falls, especially combined with any other symptom

What causes stroke?

Strokes occur when something interferes with the normal flow of blood to the central nervous system.  When blood flow is interrupted, the brain does not get the oxygen and nutrients it needs, and cells begin to die. Relatively few brain cells will be affected if the interruption is brief, and the person may recover fully. Otherwise, the damage may vary in the degree of severity and can be permanent.

The part of the brain that’s damaged depends on the location of the stroke. Areas commonly affected include those that involve sensory perceptions, movement, memory, thought patterns, or behaviour, and the ability to talk or understand speech.

Treatment for stroke victims includes medication, surgery, hospital care, and physiotherapy rehabilitation. If someone with a stroke goes to the hospital early enough, clot dissolving medication–called a thrombolytic, such as tPA,–can be given.

Reducing your risk

Strokes can happen to anyone. You could prevent a stroke by taking the following actions:
  • Monitor and control your blood pressure. High blood pressure (over 140/90) is the biggest risk factor for stroke.
  • Stop smoking. Chemicals in tobacco raise your blood pressure, reduce the amount of oxygen your blood carries to your brain, make blood thicker and stickier, and promote clotting.
  • Monitor and control your cholesterol. High LDL cholesterol levels damage your arteries and promote the formation of plaque.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight increases your risk for high blood pressure.
  • Stay active. Getting regular aerobic exercise helps overall cardiovascular health.
  • Eat a balanced diet, including plenty of fruits and vegetables. Some fad diets may be unhealthy if they promote too much fat or salt.
  • Control and manage diabetes. People with the disease are more likely to have strokes.
  • Take little strokes seriously. A small clot will sometimes clog an artery briefly, causing temporary weakness, dizziness, or other symptoms. These transient ischemic attacks often precede a major stroke.
  • Follow your health care provider’s advice for treatment of heart disease.
  • Find out from your health care provider if you need to have your carotid arteries–the arteries in the neck that supply blood to the brain–checked for blockage.
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