There are as many as 62,000 strokes in Canada each year, with as many as 405,000 Canadians living with the effects following a stroke. A stroke can happen to anyone at any time. It is a type of attack that occurs in the brain as a result of the cut-off of blood flow, which ultimately deprives the brain cells of oxygen and causes them to die. As for how an individual is affected by a stroke, it depends on the type of stroke they’ve had.
• Ischemic Stroke: This is the most common type of stroke and accounts for as many as 87% of them. It is the type of stroke that obstructs the flow of blood to the brain, which can occur in one of two ways – as a result of a cerebral thrombosis (a type of blood clot that develops within the blood vessel’s fatty plaque) or a cerebral embolism (a type of blood clot that forms in another area of the body, such as the heart or arteries in the chest and/or neck, and breaks loose and travels through the blood vessels of the brain until it can no longer pass.)
• Hemorrhagic Stroke: Accounting for approximately 13% of all strokes, a hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a weakened blood vessel ruptures and bleeds into the brain, which then accumulates and compresses surrounding brain tissue. The most common types of weakened blood vessels that can lead to a hemorrhagic stroke include aneurysms and arteriovenous malformations – also known as AVMs.
• Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA): Also commonly referred to as a “mini” stroke, a Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) is a type of stroke that only causes temporary blockage of blood to the brain and usually doesn’t result in any permanent damage. That being said, if you do happen to experience a TIA then it is not something that should be ignored as it may be a sign that you could potentially suffer from a much more serious stroke in the future. In fact, as many as one third of individuals who do have a TIA will go on to have a more severe stroke within the same year.
• Cryptogenic Stroke: When a stroke occurs without any known cause, they are known as a Cryptogenic Stroke. These account for one-third of ischemic strokes.
It is important to know the warning signs and symptoms of a stroke so that you can act quickly and get the appropriate treatment, as it is considered a medical emergency. Common warning signs and symptoms include numbness or weakness (this is often sudden and typically affects one side of the face, arm, and/or leg), confusion, trouble speaking or difficulty understanding speech, loss of balance and/or coordination, trouble walking, dizziness, sudden or severe headache. If you exhibit any of these aforementioned signs or symptoms, or think that someone is having a stroke, it’s crucial that you call 9-1-1 right away, as the quicker you act the less detrimental the effects of a stroke can be.
The type of treatment you receive for a stroke also depends on the type of stroke you’ve had. When it comes to treating an ischemic stroke, doctors must restore blood flow to the brain. This can mean administering medications, as well as by performing an endovascular procedure (a type of procedure that is performed directly inside of the blocked blood vessel.) To reduce your risk of developing more strokes in the future, doctors may also perform a carotid endarterectomy, in which a surgeon will remove plaque from the carotid arteries (the arteries that run from each side of your neck to your brain), as well as perform angioplasty and insertion of stents to help expand arteries and stop them from narrowing. It’s also not uncommon for survivors of strokes to receive rehabilitation therapy.
When it comes to preventing strokes, there are certain things you can do – many of which are lifestyle-based. Smoking, for example, can thicken your blood and increase buildup of plaque in the arteries, ultimately leading to stroke. Therefore, if you’re a smoker, you should speak to your physician for tips on how to quit. Obesity can also increase your risk of stroke, so make sure you eat healthy as well as get regular physical activity to try and lose weight. Underlying conditions such as atrial fibrillation and diabetes have also been linked to stroke, so it’s important that you ensure these are conditions you have under control and that you’re seeing your physician for regular checkups.