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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Know the signs of stroke: It can happen to anyone

My husband is 32 years old, and last month, he had a stroke.

I came home late one evening to find my husband tired and feeling sick to his stomach. After an hour of napping, he sat up and looked at me with a weird expression on his face – his left lip was pulled up slightly and his pupils were dilated. I half-jokingly asked, “What’s wrong with your face – are you having a stroke?” He was aware enough to get up and go to the mirror to see for himself, where he tugged at his lip a bit, but it stayed put. I asked him how he was feeling and he said, “Ummm…” and seemed to be wracking his brain for the right response. When he couldn’t remember what my name was, I knew we had a serious problem.

warning signs of stroke

Do you know the warning signs of stroke? (From www.heartandstroke.com)

June is national Stroke Awareness Month and I wanted to share my story here in the hopes that I can encourage people to learn about the signs of stroke, as I’ve found that many people don’t understand how serious it is. Did you know the following stats?

  • Stroke is an urgent medical emergency that affects more people than you would imagine; the Heart and Stroke Foundation reports that more than 50,000 strokes occurs in Canada every year – that’s one every 10 minutes.
  • The first three and half hours are crucial in preventing long-term damage by receiving clot-busting drugs or other medical treatment, but about two-thirds of Canadians make it to the hospital too late to meet that target. Not surprisingly, adults under the age of 50 take the longest to call 9-1-1 due to denial, thereby risking death.
  • Stroke is the third leading cause of death in Canada.

When I realized there was something wrong with my husband, I admit I still wasn’t sure it was actually a stroke. Strokes only happen to eighty year olds, right? Not so. My husband had no risk factors. That night, he was walking around the house normally, and even went to put on socks when I told him we were going to the hospital, and he functioned as well as he does every morning. But he was experiencing a stroke.

My husband and I are extremely lucky. I got him to the hospital fast enough to save his life, and now, only a month later, he is back to his old self… except for the extreme health kick – a positive side effect of this life-changing experience. We’ve both changed some of our unhealthy habits for the better and look forward to a long and healthy life together.

Make sure you educate yourself and your family by knowing the signs of stroke. It might just save your life one day.

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of digital communications and public engagement for Northern Health, where she is actively involved in promoting the great work of NH staff to encourage healthy, well and active lifestyles. She manages NH's content channels, including social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc). When she's not working, Jessica stays active by exploring the beautiful outdoors around Prince George via kayak, hiking boots, or snowshoes, and she has recently completed her master's degree in professional communications from Royal Roads University, with a focus on the use of social media in health care. (NH Blog Admin)

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