Healthy Living in the North

June is Stroke Awareness Month in Canada

The image gives the acronym F.A.S.T. or "fast" for the signs of a stoke. F for Face - Is it drooping? A for Arms - Can you raise both? S for Speech - Is it slurred or jumbled? T for Time to call 9-1-1 right away.

June is Stroke Month. Recognize the sign of a stoke. Photo credit: Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada (2017).

June is Stroke Awareness Month in Canada, a time to learn more about what a stroke is, what the risk factors are, and what some of the key signs and symptoms may be.

What is a stroke?

A stroke occurs when blood stops flowing to a part of your brain damaging brain cells. The effects of stroke can vary depending on the part of the brain that was affected, type of stroke, and how much of the brain was damaged.

What are the risk factors of a stroke?

Did you know that stroke is one of the leading causes of death in Canada? In fact, nine out of 10 Canadians have at least one risk factor for stroke or heart disease. Risk factors for stroke include things that we cannot control (non-modifiable) and things that we can control (modifiable).

Non-modifiable risk factors that can increase your risk of stroke include:

  • Age
    • While a stroke can happen at any age, those over the age of 55 are at a higher risk
  • Family history
    • Having an immediate family member (parent, grandparent, or sibling) with stroke, especially before the age of 65.
    • Certain genetic conditions.
  • Ethnicity
    • Being of African, Hispanic, or South Asian descent.
  • Sex
    • While strokes affect both men and women, it occurs more frequently in women. This is thought to be, in part, due to women having a longer life expectancy than men.
    • Other risk factors specific to women include pregnancy, history of pre-eclampsia or eclampsia, gestational diabetes, oral contraceptives, and hormone replacement therapy.
  • Having had a prior stroke, TIA (mini-stroke), heart attack, or certain conditions such as atrial fibrillation can significantly increase your risk for stroke.

Stroke can happen at any age, but the good news is that there are things you can do to help prevent a stroke. In fact, it’s estimated that up to 80% of strokes are preventable. To decrease the risk of a stroke, you can address modifiable risk factors such as:

  • Getting regular physical activity:
    • Adults aged 18-64 should aim for a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity per week, in spurts of 10 minutes or more. Adding muscle and bone strengthening activities, at least 2 days per week, is also recommended.
  • Maintaining a healthy body weight.
  • Eating a healthy diet, balanced with fruits and vegetables.
  • Quitting smoking.
  • Drinking in moderation.
  • Managing your stress levels.
  • Taking steps to manage your high blood pressure and diabetes.

Visit the Heart and Stroke website to assess your risk and to learn more about how to decrease your risk for stroke.

How to recognize a stroke as it’s happening

Use the FAST (Face, Arms, Speech, Time) acronym to help recognize the signs of a stroke and take action right away:

  • Face… is it drooping?
  • Arms… can you raise both?
  • Speech… is it slurred or jumbled?
  • Time… to call 9-1-1 right away.
Daman Kandola

About Daman Kandola

Daman is a Health Sciences PhD candidate at the University of Northern British Columbia (UNBC) and senior Research Associate with the School of Nursing at UNBC. She is currently working as a Research Fellow with Northern Health on stroke care, funded by a national Health System Impact Fellowship through Northern Health and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Her PhD research explores the use, barriers, and facilitators to the use of emergency health services among stroke survivors and their caregivers in Northern BC. Born in Vancouver, but raised in Prince George, she is passionate about research around health access and equity, particularly among Northern, rural, and remote populations. When she is not working, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, exploring the outdoors, or travelling.

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Heart Month how-to: Heart attack recognition

Grandfather and granddaughter eating marshmallows.

Do you know the signs of a heart attack? Learn the signs today and take steps to ensure that your family can enjoy many more gatherings and BBQs together!

Imagine this: You are enjoying a BBQ at your grandparents’ home. Your grandmother is standing at the grill, serving up the burgers. When you approach with your plate, you can see she is sweating. It’s hot near the flames, so you don’t pay much attention.

You all sit down at the picnic table with your plates. Everyone is laughing and jostling, but your grandmother looks serious. She says she feels nauseous and lightheaded and wants to lie down.

Just then, your uncle goes over and puts his arm around your grandmother. He speaks quietly in her ear. You can see your grandmother nodding. Within minutes, your uncle is calling 9-1-1 and shortly after, the ambulance arrives. Your grandmother is fine, all because your uncle recognized the signs of a heart attack and knew what to do to help.

Heart attack – the medical term is acute myocardial infarction – occurs when the blood supply to the heart is interrupted. This can happen for different reasons, but it’s usually due to a blockage in one of the arteries in the heart. It’s a life threatening condition and needs immediate treatment.

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, the signs of a heart attack include:

  • Chest discomfort – pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain, burning, or heaviness
  • Sweating
  • Upper body discomfort – neck, jaw, shoulder, arms, back
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Light headedness

These signs may not show up suddenly or seem particularly severe, and different people experience these signs differently. In particular, men and women tend to have different symptoms. The woman in the story above, for instance, never experienced the chest or upper body discomfort so commonly associated with heart attack. This is why it is so important to know these signs and to act immediately if you or someone you know is experiencing any or all of them.

What do you do if you or someone you know has the signs of a heart attack? According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation:

  1. Call 9-1-1
  2. Stop all activity
  3. Take your normal dosage of nitroglycerin (if you take nitroglycerin)
  4. Take Aspirin if you are not allergic to it (either one 325 mg tablet or two 81 mg tablets)
  5. Rest and wait
  6. Keep a list of your medications with you

Knowing the signs of heart attack can help you and others get to treatment quickly and increase the chance of recovery.

If you would like more info about heart conditions such as heart attack, or are looking for prevention and treatment info, visit the BC Heart and Stroke Foundation.

Happy Heart Month!

Jess Place

About Jess Place

Jess Place is the regional manager of chronic diseases strategic planning and evaluation. She has worked in the fields of health, health human resources, and health services for over a decade. The Regional Chronic Diseases program helps northerners in the areas of chronic diseases. It promotes well-being, provides leadership, and operates (or supports the operation of) specialized services in the areas of cancer care, cardiac and stroke care, HIV and hepatitis C care, kidney care, and chronic pain care.

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