Stroke prevention is aimed at identifying high-risk patients and reducing risk factors.

Nikkie (Virginia V.) Pora, Ontario Regional Cancer Centre (OGH Division), Ottawa, ON

Stroke occurs in about 50,000 Canadians each year and is a leading cause of death and disability in adults. Awareness of the warning signs of stroke and early treatment in a hospital emergency department (within 6 hours of onset of symptoms) can improve the chances of survival and reduce permanent brain damage.

A stroke is a brain injury caused by an interruption of blood flow to the brain. It is caused by a blocked blood vessel in the brain or when a blood vessel in or around the brain bursts or hemorrhages. When blood flow is interrupted, nerve cells in the surround areas begin to die. Without immediate treatment, the cells will continue to die over the next few hours.

The symptoms of stroke vary according to location of the damaged nerve cells in the brain, how much of the brain is damaged and how soon treatment is begun, Therefore, the effects of stroke can be slight or severe, and can affect movement, balance, speech, emotions, and memory.

A temporary interruption of blood flow to the brain, often lasting only a few minutes, is called a transient ischemic attack (TIA), a warning sign of a stroke. The symptoms of a TIA are:

  • sudden weakness, numbness or tingling of the face, arm or leg
  • temporary loss of speech or to rouble understanding speech
  • sudden loss of vision, particularly in one eye or double vision
  • sudden sever and unusual headaches
  • unsteadiness or sudden falls, especially with any of the above signs

If you have any of these signs, seed medical attention immediately.

Factors that increase the risk of stroke

  • Age: older adults
  • Sex: males
  • Race: African-Americans, because of a higher incidence of high blood pressure
  • Diabetes: especially in women
  • A previous stroke
  • A family history of stroke
  • Heart disease
  • An irregular heart beat (atrial fibrillation)

Risk factors that can be modified

  • High blood pressure
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • A sedentary lifestyle
  • Smoking
  • Excessive alcohol intake

How to reduce risk

  • Get regular medical care, especially if you are at high risk for stroke or have had a stroke.
  • Check your blood pressure regularly. Controlling high blood pressure is the best way to prevent stroke.
  • Reduce the other risk factors than can be modified.
  • Learn to recognize the warning signs of stroke.