Strokes The Basics

Jul 19, 2011

By Barret Procyshyn, Pharmacist at the Dauphin Clinic Pharmacy

Ive seen the devastating effects of strokes way too many times. Whether it has been a family member, a friend, or a patient it is always very sad to see the lasting effects from a stroke. Strokes are the third leading cause of death in Canada killing approximately 14 000 Canadians per year. The Heart and Stroke Foundation also reports there are 50 000 strokes in Canada each year. That works out to a stroke in Canada every 10 minutes. Of every 100 people that have a stroke, 15 die, 10 require long term care and 40 are left with a moderate to sever disability. Only 10 people recover completely and 25 have minor impairment.

About 80% of strokes are caused due to an interruption of blood flow to the brain because of a clot. Strokes caused by a clot are called ischemic strokes and there are two different types of ischemic strokes. Thrombotic strokes occur when a clot forms in an artery leading directly to the brain. An embolic stroke occurs when a clot forms, breaks off and then travels through the blood stream toward the brain. It interferes with blood going to the brain as the arteries become smaller. A stroke occurs when oxygen rich blood being supplied to the brain stops. Without oxygen brain cells begin to die very quickly. If oxygen is not restored certain areas of the brain begin to die, leading to disability or death. The other 20% of strokes are hemorrhagic, which occur when a blood vessel breaks in the brain.

Strokes can be prevented in many ways. Factors which increase your risk of a stroke are being overweight, smoking, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, poor diet and uncontrolled diabetes. Things which can contribute to stroke such as stress, alcohol consumption and inactivity can also be controlled. We all know Canadians can do a better job as this! We need to not start smoking, stop smoking and be more active. It is amazing the results diet and regular exercise can have; however, few of us actually make it a regular part of our lives when we are told we need to change our lifestyle. There are some risks for stroke which you cannot control. This includes family history, age and gender.

Recognizing a stroke and getting treatment quickly is crucial. The Heart and Stroke Foundation reports that for every minute delay in treating a stroke there is a loss of 1.9 million brain cells and 12 km of axonal fiber, which is like computer cables in our brain to send information. The main warning signs of a stroke are very important to remember. Weakness, including numbness in the arm or leg, even if temporary, is a sign of stroke. Trouble speaking, sudden vision problems, severe or unusual headache and dizziness or a sudden loss of balance are all included as the main warning signs.

If you think someone may be having a stroke call 911. Do not waste time quizzing or testing the patient to see if they are having a stroke. Time is too valuable. If you live alone and were to have a stroke, would you be able to get help quickly? Perhaps it would be good to invest in a Lifeline system so you could get help when needed. Dauphin has their own Lifeline program. Simply you wear a help button around your wrist or neck. If you have a problem you only have to press a button and via your phone line, assistance will be provided. There is also a new system called Autoalert, so you do not even need to press a button in an emergency. Autoalert automatically recognizes if you need help. For more information about the Dauphin Lifeline program please call the Seniors Centre at 638-6485.

Next weeks article will focus on TIAs, more commonly known as mini strokes.

The information in this article is intended as a helpful guide only. It is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional advice. If you have any questions about your medications and what is right for you see your doctor, pharmacist or other health care professional.

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