A stroke occurs when the blood supply to the brain is blocked, or when there’s a bleed into the brain. Like all organs, the brain needs oxygen and nutrients to function properly. When a clot forms, it can create a blockage in a blood vessel supplying the brain. This cuts off the blood flow to an area of the brain, damaging cells. This can lead to brain damage, both temporary or permanent, depending how long the blood supply is cut off.
Signs of a stroke. Want to know how to recognize a stroke? Click here for the leading stroke symptoms.
Types of Stroke
The Heart and Stroke Foundation describes three types of stroke in adults – ischemic, hemorrhagic and transient ischemic attacks (TIA).
Ischemic strokes are caused by an interruption of the blood flow to the brain due to a blood clot. These strokes usually involve the buildup of plaque (fatty materials, calcium and scar tissue) in the arteries that supply blood to the brain, narrowing them and interfering with or blocking the blood flow. This narrowing is called atherosclerosis.
Ischemic strokes are the most common type of stroke, accounting for approximately 80 per cent. It is further divided into two kinds of ischemic stroke.
- Thrombotic – caused by a blood clot in an artery leading directly to the brain
- Embolic – caused by a blood clot that travels to the brain after forming somewhere else in the body
Hemorrhagic strokes can occur when uncontrolled bleeding in the brain damages brain cells. These are generally caused by one of the following structural problems with the blood vessels:
- Aneurysm – a weakened area in a blood vessel wall that ruptures
- Arteriovenous Malformation (AVM) – a rupture due to a defect in the blood vessels in the brain (usually present at birth) that causes the vessel walls to be weak
Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA)
Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIA), often called “mini-strokes”, occur when blood flow to the brain is stopped for a short period of time. This interruption in blood flow may be the result of narrowing of the arteries from a buildup of plaque (atherosclerosis), or from a clot that may have travelled from another part of the body such as the heart:
Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) can cause an embolic stroke — when a blood clot forms in the heart and travels to the brain. It is estimated that up to 15 per cent of all strokes are caused by AFib.
Having AFib greatly increases your risk of a stroke, which means following your doctor’s advice to reduce your risk of a stroke is crucial.
*Other risk factors for stroke include high blood pressure, smoking, high cholesterol levels, unhealthy weight, stress, family history, physical inactivity, age, diabetes, excessive alcohol consumption, gender, ethnicity, history of stroke or TIA.
Your doctor can help you reduce your risk of stroke, find out more here.
Each year, an estimated 32,081 Canadians are hospitalized for stroke care and in 2012, over 13,000 died as a result of a stroke. More than 400,000 Canadians are living with long-term stroke disability. It is important to remember that stroke is one of the most preventable life-threatening medical conditions.
Approximately 10 per cent of those who have a stroke recover almost completely, while about 25 per cent of stroke survivors will recover with minor impairments or disabilities. However, many stroke survivors will be left with long-term problems. Forty per cent of those who suffer from a stroke are left with moderate to severe impairment, in some cases requiring long-term care. A stroke can also affect bodily functions, thought processes, your ability to learn and communicate, as well as impact emotions.
If you have atrial fibrillation (AFib) and suffer a stroke, there is a greater chance of it being more severe. One study found that strokes caused by AFib were linked to a 70 per cent increase in death or significant neurological disability.
Beyond the impact on you, a stroke will affect your partner and other family members. As strokes can occur without warning, it can be very difficult for families to deal with the shock of seeing a once capable person suddenly disabled and need help with simple activities. Increasing pressure is placed on caregivers and families to provide ongoing support to stroke survivors, which can include a lot of care and help with everyday living.
Having a stroke is a serious matter. Therefore, it is important to do all you can to reduce your risk. The best thing is to follow your doctor’s advice.
Time to take positive action
These facts show how important it is to your health to do all you can to lower your risk of stroke if you have been diagnosed with AFib. The best thing is to follow your doctor’s advice.