agh_logoby Susan Hanna

Stroke can cause damage to the brain that may affect your ability to move, see, remember, speak, reason and read and write. Dr. David Atack, consulting neurologist at Almonte General Hospital, answers some common questions about stroke.

 What is a stroke? “Stroke is a vascular incident that damages the brain,” explains Dr. Atack. “The majority of strokes are ischemic, meaning that the blood flow to the brain is interrupted by a blocked artery or by a build-up of sludge in a large vessel that breaks off and travels to a distant vessel. If it doesn’t break up quickly, it can cause stroke.” A Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) is a temporary interruption of blood flow to the brain that is typically over in minutes or a few hours.

 “Other types of stroke are cardiac embolic stroke, in which the heart is the source of a clot or sludge, and hemorrhagic stroke, which is caused by a blood vessel bursting in the brain,” says Dr. Atack. “The latter may be as a result of uncontrolled blood pressure, an intracerebral hemorrhage, vascular malfunction or an aneurysm.”

Who is at risk of stroke? “Genetics is very important, so if you have a family history of stroke or heart disease, you should be on guard,” says Dr. Atack. “A healthy lifestyle, including eating and sleeping well, and exercising, can help minimize risk.”

Smokers are very much at risk for stroke. “A stroke research colleague of mine says that if everyone stopped smoking, it would have the greatest impact on lowering stroke than anything else,” says Dr. Atack. “People with diabetes, high LDL cholesterol, high blood pressure, and a history of heart disease are also at increased risk of stroke.”

What are the symptoms? “Sudden numbness or weakness in a limb or the face, sudden speech loss or distortion or loss of speech comprehension, double vision or sudden blindness in one eye, dizziness, and a sudden headache unlike any one you have had before are the five signs of possible stroke,” says Dr. Atack. “If you have any of these symptoms call 911 and get to an emergency department immediately.”

How is stroke treated? “If you are diagnosed with an ischemic stroke within 4.5 hours of the onset of symptoms, you may be given tPA (tissue plasminogen activator) to break up the clot,” says Dr. Atack. “It can partially or completely reverse symptoms.”

What happens after a stroke? “If symptoms have not disappeared within 24 hours, it is a completed stroke,” explains Dr. Atack. “A patient would typically undergo rehabilitation to restore speech, comprehension, movement and other affected functions.” Another important part of post-stroke care is identifying the underlying health issues that caused the stroke, and taking steps to address them. “If you have suffered a stroke, you are at greater risk of suffering a subsequent one,” says Dr. Atack.