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Stroke is a sudden loss of brain function caused by the interruption of blood flow to the brain, as a result of either an ischemic stroke (a blood clot) or a hemorrhagic stroke (the rupture of a blood vessel and bleeding into or around the brain).
The interruption of blood flow to the brain causes brain cells (neurons) in the affected area to die. The effects of a stroke depend upon which part of the brain was injured and how much damage has occurred. About 80% of strokes are ischemic and 20% are hemorrhagic.
Stroke is a leading cause of disability worldwide, and approximately 300,000 Canadians are living with the effects of a stroke. It is also the third leading cause of death in Canada. About 60% of people who have had a stroke are left with some form of disability such as paralysis, sensory loss, memory loss, language problems, and vision problems. Some people may also suffer from depression or other emotional conditions after a stroke.
Risk factor modification, medications and, in some cases, surgery can help to minimize the risk of having a stroke.
An ischemic stroke is the result of blockage in blood flow to the brain caused by a blood clot. The buildup of plaque in the artery wall (atherosclerosis, or "hardening of the arteries") is an underlying cause for many ischemic strokes.
Atherosclerosis is a process in which fatty deposits (plaques) build up inside the blood vessels of the body, particularly in the carotid arteries of the neck, the coronary arteries of the heart, and the arteries of the legs. Atherosclerotic plaques can lead to a stroke by causing blockage of blood flow, or by dislodged plaque material (emboli) that can travel to the brain.
A hemorrhagic stroke is caused by bleeding into the brain (intracerebral hemorrhage) or bleeding around the brain (subarachnoid hemorrhage), which results from the breakage of a blood vessel. Brain hemorrhages may result from uncontrolled high blood pressure, and, in some cases, can be caused by structural problems within the blood vessels (e.g., aneurysms or vascular malformations).
There are numerous risk factors that can cause a stroke.
Factors you can't control are:
Factors you can control are:
Other factors that can lead to a stroke are:
Other factors such as oral contraceptive use, hormone replacement therapy, or pregnancy and childbirth in women with pre-existing medical conditions may increase the risk of stroke in specific cases. Talk to your doctor about risk factors that may be relevant to you and your risk of stroke.
The symptoms of stroke appear suddenly, over a few minutes or hours or at most a couple of days. Individuals should be able to recognize the 5 main symptoms of stroke and seek immediate medical attention if any of these symptoms occur:
A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a "mini-stroke" caused by a temporary interruption of blood flow to the brain. TIA symptoms are the same as those of a stroke except that the symptoms disappear within a few minutes to hours, usually lasting no longer than 24 hours. However, TIAs require immediate medical attention just like strokes. TIAs are important warning signs indicating you may be at risk of having a stroke in the future. Medical treatment is required.