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Stroke is an Emergency

Warning Signs of Stroke

Different areas of the brain have different functions, so there are literally thousands of possible symptoms that can result from a stroke, depending what blood vessels and parts of the brain are involved. If any combination of the following symptoms occur they should be treated as an emergency.

  • Sudden blurred or decreased vision (in one or both eyes)

  • Sudden numbness, weakness, or paralysis of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body

  • Difficulty speaking or understanding speech

  • Dizziness, loss of balance, or an unexplained fall

  • Difficulty swallowing

  • Headache (usually with severe and abrupt onset) or unexplained change in the pattern of headaches


Recent surveys indicate that Canadians have hazy notions about stroke and its dangers. Despite the substantial drop in the incidence and mortality of stroke, it remains poorly understood. Many confuse stroke with heart attack, believe it to be caused by stress, a shock or a head blow, or consider it an "old person's disease". This confusion may be tragic.

Stroke is a medical emergency as life threatening as a heart attack and even more devastating when survived. In fact, BRAIN ATTACK is felt by doctors to be much more effective term than stroke in decribing the havoc that it causes in the body, and in the lives that it affects.

When a stroke is suffered, time is critical. Once parts of the brain have died, they can never be revived, yet the average stroke patient waits 13 to 18 hours after the first symptoms appear before seeking medical help - far too late to avoid permanent death of brain tissue.

It is imperative that treatment is received within three hours of the first stroke symptoms ­ preferably much sooner.

It is within this therapeutic window of opportunity that new drug therapies may halt brain damage due to stroke. Time is brain!

Risk Factors for Stroke

Some risk factors for stroke are beyond our control:

  • Age: ­ The risk of stroke increases significantly with age, at least doubling with each decade after the age of 55

  • Gender:  Men are 30 percent more likely than women to have a stroke. Women, however, are more likely than men to die as the result of stroke, accounting for 60 percent of stroke fatalities

  • Family History: ­ Because both hypertension and atherosclerosis run in families, stroke is also more likely in certain families


However, there are many risk factors we can influence to avoid the emergency that is stroke:

TIA:  The strongest single predictor for stroke is a previous stroke or a transient ischemic attack (TIA), in which symptoms of stroke occur briefly then clear completely. Having a TIA is a serious warning- it increases stroke risk 7 to 10 times, and requires immediate medical attention.

High Blood Pressure: ­ High blood pressure (defined as higher than 140 over 90) is one of the most controllable risk factors for stroke, increasing the risk for stroke 4 to 6 times. It is a contributing factor in 50 percent to 70 percent of strokes.

Heart Disease: ­ Heart disease is a strong risk factor for ischemic stroke. Heart deficiencies can make it more likely that clots will form within the heart that may break off and be carried to the brain. Atrial fibrillation, a heart condition in which the upper chambers of the heart flutter rapidly rather than beating effectively, may cause the formation of clots, and can raise stroke risk 6 times-up to 18 times if the heart valves are diseased.

Diabetes: ­ Diabetics have stroke risk 2 or 3 times above average. Controlling diabetes can minimize this risk.

Smoking: ­ Smoking is a proven health hazard, doubling stroke risk, damaging blood vessel walls, and increasing how hard the heart has to work.

High Cholesterol: ­ though it is unclear whether high cholesterol levels significantly affect stroke risk, it is clear that the related risk of heart disease is increased.

Excess Weight: ­ excess weight increases the incidence of high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.

Poor Fitness Level:  regular physical activity, throughout life, reduces the risk of stroke. Stroke survivors in particular should strive to maintain their fitness level-immobility causes the formation of blood clots, usually in the large blood vessels of the leg, in up to 75 percent of stroke survivors, potentially causing pulmonary embolism (blood clot(s) carried to the lungs), the fourth most common cause of early mortality following stroke.

An awareness of these factors and an effort to minimize them can only be positive, in both healthy individuals and stroke survivors.

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