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Stroke

Strokes are a leading cause of death and disability in Canada. It is estimated that 50,000 Canadians suffer a stroke every year and many of these are left with permanent disabilities.

Stroke is a cerebrovascular disease that affects the blood vessels supplying blood to the brain. A stroke occurs when a blood clot or ruptured blood vessel obstructs blood flow to parts of the brain, robbing its cells of vital oxygen. Because of this rupture or blockage, part of the brain doesn’t get the flow of blood it needs. Deprived of oxygen, nerve cells in the affected area of the brain can’t function and die within minutes. And when nerve cells can’t function, the part of the body controlled by these cells can’t function either. The devastating effects of stroke are often permanent because dead brain cells aren’t replaced.

There are two main causes of stroke: hemorrhage – a sudden rupture of a brain artery, and blood clots – a blockage that prevents the flow of blood to parts of the brain.

Warning signs

The warning signs of stroke include:

  • sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body – face, arm and/or leg
  • sudden speech loss, trouble speaking or understanding, or difficulty reading
  • sudden blurring or partial loss of vision in one or both eyes
  • sudden, severe and unusual headaches – often accompanied by nausea and drowsiness
  • sudden falls, dizziness, unsteadiness or loss of coordination

Don’t ignore the signs of stroke however insignificant or isolated they may seem. See a physician immediately and take preventative action to avoid further or worse repetitions.

Prevention

To help prevent strokes:

  • get your blood pressure checked regularly
  • get treatment for cardiac disorders such as heartbeat irregularities, mitral valve disease and other heart abnormalities
  • women with migraine headaches who take oral contraceptives and smoke may be at higher risk of stroke – take steps to reduce your risk (e.g. stop smoking)
  • don’t ignore signs of stroke – get immediate medical advice

It is estimated that half of all strokes could be avoided by proper stroke-prevention measures. If you smoke, quit. If you have high blood pressure, take steps to lower it. And if you’ve experience warning signs, see your doctor.

For more information, contact your local Heart and Stroke Foundation.

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