My personal experience with stroke took place in an operating theatre undergoing aneurysm surgery. While surgeons worked to wire a larger aneurysm, a second smaller one ruptured. What should have been a two day stay in hospital stretched into 6 weeks, in and out of ICU with a 2 week stay in the Stroke Rehabilitation Ward. Although I had not had an actual stroke, a brain bleed qualifies and can produce the same deficits as stroke. What I observed on that Rehabilitation Ward was an education on the importance of healthy living and avoidance of stroke which can change life in a moment.
What is Stroke?
The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada defines stroke this way: “A stroke happens when blood stops flowing to any part of your brain, damaging brain cells. The effects of a stroke depend on the part of the brain that was damaged and the amount of damage done.”
There are 2 types of stroke:
- Ischemic stroke: Most strokes are Ischemic. Blood flow through an artery to the brain is blocked by a blood clot.
Hemorrhagic Stroke: basically arterial bleeding into the brain or an arterial rupture. High blood pressure or brain aneurysms can cause an artery to burst, thus damaging brain cells.
Witnessing the Consequences of Stroke Firsthand
It was in this Stroke Rehab that I came to recognize the perils of stroke and how it changes life in a moment: how mortal we are, how fragile is life and how it can all change in an instant.
In this hospital I witnessed acceptance, resignation, anger and incredible courage: an upbeat, engaging woman who had suffered stroke alone at home and not found for hours had to move to longterm care because she would never walk again; a man who could not swallow properly as the result of his stroke, his voice impacted and barely audible was now wheelchair bound; a male patient in the next room would holler at the top of his lungs: NN…UUUURSE! when needing attention. In all probability, he could not reach his call button or press it as a result of his stroke. Life can change in a heartbeat: once mobile, you can no longer walk; once independent, you can no longer work or live alone; once happily married, your partner cannot cope with your physical deficits and you are looking at spending the rest of your life in longterm care.
Imagine the shock in realizing that a stroke has changed your life forever. You cannot walk. You may be paralyzed. You struggle with cognitive issues such as memory. You lose your voice. Options you once took for granted, are gone…some forever.
Stroke is No Respecter of Age
We hear about the hazards of stroke but until you are up close and witnessing the consequences, I believe most people have no idea how serious and life altering it can be. After my discharge from hospital and in follow up with the head neurologist I was told that one in ten people admitted to this neuro centre do not survive.
Women suffer stroke more often than do men and die more frequently, the result of their increased longevity. Every 17 minutes a Canadian woman has a stroke = 85 women per day of which 18 will succumb and die. Strokes are the #1 disabler for women and twice as likely to kill than breast cancer. 1/3 more women die of stroke than do men in Canada: 59% vs 41% male fatalities. And twice as many women end up in longterm care than do men.
Age is no barrier to having a stroke. One in 7 strokes involve adolescents and young adults age 15-49, high blood pressure and diabetes being contributing factors.
How Common is Stroke?
10% of adults aged 65+ have experienced stroke.
ontariostrokenetwork.ca cites these stats:
“Every year, nearly 14,000 Canadians die from stroke. Every year in Canada, there are over 50,000 new strokes—that’s one stroke every 10 minutes. About 300,000 Canadians are living with the effects of stroke.”
The NIH remarks that stroke is a leading cause of death and disability in the US and cites these stats: “Each year, about 795,000 people in the United States have strokes, and of these incidents, 137,000 of the people die. About 610,000 of these cases are first strokes, and 185,000 people who survive a stroke will have another stroke within 5 years.”
From the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada comes this chart illustrating how risk of stroke increases with age:
Sometimes Courage and Dedication are just Not Enough…
I never witnessed any patient weeping or complaining about their condition but I did see a lot of courage, determination and compassion. One couple in particular impressed me with their daily dedication to rehabilitation. The husband was recovering from a stroke which had left him unable to walk. Unfailingly this man’s wife and daughter were there for him every day, helping him climb stairs in rehab, holding onto the top of his pants to ensure he would not trip or fall, and accompanying him on slow walks through hospital corridors. After two weeks this same patient was walking again with his wife still gripping the tops of his trousers to ensure he would not fall. Then came the news that he would have to move to longterm care because his physical deficits were beyond his wife’s ability to cope, thus underscoring the fact that the best treatment for stroke is prevention. 8 in 10 strokes are preventable.
How Do We Avoid Stroke?
Healthy lifestyle changes such as the following:
- Monitor and lower your blood pressure. The ideal reading should be close to 120/80
- Reduce salt intake to no more than 6g/daily
- Try to avoid foods high in saturated and transfats
- Consume fish 3 times a week
- Endeavour to incorporate 5 servings of fruit and vegetables into your diet daily along with low fat dairy and wholegrains.
- Monitor your weight and check your waistline circumference. Where fat resides on your body determines your vulnerability to high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke.
- Exercise at least 30 minutes a day every day if possible. Chose an activity you enjoy so that you will be consistent.
- Consciously reduce stress
- Quit smoking
- Reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption
Measure your waistline. Men should measure less than 40″ around and women should measure less than 35″ around.
It’s all about lifestyle, lifestyle, lifestyle because once again 8 out of 10 cases of stroke are preventable. If you feel you need to lose weight, you can check your BMI or Body Mass Index compliments of the CDC here:
Heredity may play some role in one’s vulnerability to stroke but lifestyle habits within a family tend to influence healthy or unhealthy lifestyle choices. Habits follow us from childhood into our adult lives – some good, some bad. But habits acquired can be changed once you educate yourself on the advantages of living a healthy lifestyle.
Time is of the Essence in Recognizing, Getting Treatment for and Mitigating the Damage of Stroke
How do you recognize when someone is having a stroke?
If you suspect stroke, DO NOT drive yourself to a hospital. Call 911 because treatment can be initiated in the ambulance and it is critical that it begin as soon as possible. Early medical intervention will mitigate deficits both mental and physical.
My experience with a brain bleed is now 8 years in my rear view mirror. I still receive follow up from a major neuro centre and am eternally grateful that they saved my life. I remember those who were not so lucky and I have attempted to adopt a lifestyle which will ensure my longevity, hopefully free from another brain aneurysm or stroke. What are you doing to create your own healthy lifestyle and avoid a stroke which could change your life in a single moment?
Disclaimer: You must not rely on the information on our website as an alternative to medical advice from your doctor or other professional healthcare provider