A stroke occurs when the natural blood flow to the brain is disrupted. An ischemic stroke occurs when there is an interruption in blood flow. Ischemic strokes are by far the most common stroke. There are also hemorrhagic strokes, caused by a ruptured blood vessel in the brain. Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA) signify a high risk for stroke and need immediate attention. Someone who has had a TIA should be seen the same day for assessment and treatment.
Disrupted blood flow can cause brain damage, the extent of which depends on the brain region affected and for how long. For this reason, it is essential that a stroke victim seek medical treatment as soon as possible. If a victim can reach a hospital within three or four hours, doctors can administer drugs in cases of ischemic stroke, to limit significantly the extent of any potential brain damage.
The effects of stroke can be minor, in which case a victim can expect full recovery. But major effects of stroke can leave victims unable to speak, read or write, remember, or move normally.
People should be aware of the main warning signs of stroke: weakness, speech or vision problems, severe headaches, and disequilibrium. If these symptoms occur, people should see a physician immediately. The greatest risk factor for stroke is high blood pressure (hypertension), which affects one out of five Canadians.