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June 1, 2010

Do You Know the 5 Warning Signs of a Stroke?

Prevent a stroke by empowering yourself with knowledge

Many people know the signs of a heart attack. Knowing the warning signs of a stroke can help prevent a stroke and lasting damage.

What is stroke?

Simply put, it's a sudden loss of brain function due to an interruption of blood flow to your brain, or rupture of blood vessels in the brain. The impact of a stroke depends on the area of the brain it happens in and the type of stroke it is.

Read more

Knowing the five warning signs of a stroke is key to preventing strokes and keeping yourself healthy. The key element of signs and symptoms of a stroke is sudden.

Five common signs someone is having a stroke:

  • Trouble speaking - sudden difficulty in speaking or understanding

  • Weakness - sudden loss of strength

  • Vision problems - sudden trouble with vision, even if temporary

  • Headache - sudden severe and unusual headache

  • Dizziness - sudden loss of balance, especially with any of the above signs

If you experience any of these symptoms, you need to see a doctor immediately. Here's what to do:

  • Go to an emergency room - have someone take you, don't drive yourself or

  • Call 9-1-1

"Early recognition is the most important thing for the public to be aware of. Knowing these warning signs may help you prevent a stroke," says Audrey Gousseau, Cerebrovascular Nurse Clinician with the Stroke Clinic at the Health Sciences Centre. "There's a medication called tPA that can be considered in the first four and a half hours of someone presenting with an acute stroke."

Risk factors for stroke

Knowing the warning signs of a stroke is important but so is making lifestyle choices that decrease your risk for a stroke. Risk factors include:

  • smoking

  • high blood pressure

  • high cholesterol

  • diabetes

  • obesity

  • lack of exercise

  • use or drugs or alcohol

Certain risk factors like family history, age, and ethnicity (some cultures have a predisposition to stroke) can't be changed. It's important to implement healthy habits early so you don't develop habits that put you at greater risk.

"Anybody can change their lifestyle in order to decrease their risk of having a stroke or heart disease. It really is about lifestyle choices," says Gousseau. "If you look after reducing risk factors at an early age and continue throughout your lifetime, we would see less health problems relating to stroke and heart disease."

Seeing your doctor regularly, eating sensibly, exercising regularly, maintaining your ideal weight, quitting smoking and limiting the use of alcohol are all key ways to reduce your risk for stroke.

The Winnipeg Health Region has two Stroke Clinics, one at Health Sciences Centre and the St. Boniface Hospital. These clinics work together and see approximately 6000 patients a year for possible stroke symptoms, workup and management of their risk factors. For seven years, doctors have been referring people to the clinic, who are contacted within 48 hours.

The goals are to see patients quickly, initiate tests and get people on the right treatment in order to prevent a stroke. Patients who have already had a stroke are also seen and managed for risk factors and may be referred on for rehabilitation if required. Each clinic is staffed with two neurologists, a clinical assistant, a nurse and a booking clerk. There are also two rural clinics in Brandon and Steinbach.

On any given day, a stroke prevention clinic is taking place. The clinics work very closely with each other to ensure patients are seen quickly and provided with the resources they require. Each clinic has a number where a person can call the nurse or the clinic to have their questions answered.

"The biggest myth is that people don't believe that strokes can be prevented. In the last decade there have been many advancements in the prevention and treatment of stroke. Strokes can be treated," says Gousseau. "Early recognition is very important. Strokes can be prevented."

Recommended Reading

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Manitoba

Women and stroke and heart disease

Canadian Hypertension Society

Mayo Clinic

Cleveland Clinic

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