Stroke is a sudden loss of brain function.  It is caused by an interruption of blood flow to the brain (ischemic) or the rupture of blood vessels in the brain (hemorrhagic).  A TIA (transient ischemic attack) is a mini-stroke that has a temporary interruption of blood flow to the brain.  The symptoms clear within a few minutes or hours.  A TIA is a warning sign for the increased risk of a full stroke.

The brain has 100 billion specialized cells (neurons).  Everything that we do is ultimately controlled by the brain.  The lack of blood flow in the affected area leads to death of these brain cells.  Once a neuron is damaged it cannot repair itself and brain cells do not duplicate.

The effects of the stroke depend on the area of the brain that is affected.
There are five key warning signs for stroke.  Sudden strength loss or numbness in the face, arms or legs, sudden difficulties with speech, sudden vision problems, sudden severe and unusual headache and sudden dizziness with loss of balance.  It is important to recognize these signs and seek medical attention as soon as possible.  The damage caused by a stroke can be minimized if emergency procedures are started within 3 hours of the onset of the stroke.  There are very strong clot-busting drugs that can greatly reduce the death of neurons.  Knowing this seems to make very little difference as only 20 – 25 % of people having a stroke seek medical aid within this 3 hour window.

Risk factors for stroke are the same as heart disease.  Factors such as age, gender, family history, Ethnicity, and previous history of TIA or stroke can not be controlled.  However, many factors such as hypertension, cholesterol, diabetes, being overweight, alcohol consumption, physical inactivity, smoking and stress can be controlled.

Go to www.heartandstroke.ca to learn more.  Early intervention can make all the difference.