Stroke is the third-largest killer of Canadian adults, after heart disease and cancer. It’s also the primary cause of physical disabilities and is second only to Alzheimer’s disease as a cause of mental disability.
In Canada, there are more than 50,000 strokes a year. About 6% of deaths in Canada are due to stroke – and 20% of cardiovascular-related deaths. On average, one stroke occurs every 10 minutes; 15% of them will result in death, 10% in complete recovery, and the remaining in varying degrees of long-term disability. Although the risk of stroke doubles every 10 years after age 55, there are 6.7 strokes for every 100,000 people under the age of 19.
While anyone can have a stroke, including young healthy people, some of us are more at risk. Stroke has many of the same risk factors as heart disease. Although some risk factors, such as age, cannot be controlled, there are many risk factors that can be controlled.
Risk factors that can be controlled or treated include:
- high blood pressure
- high cholesterol
- blood vessel disease (such as peripheral artery disease or carotid artery disease)
- atrial fibrillation (a disorder of the heart rhythm where the upper chambers of the heart quiver instead of beating normally)
- heart disease
- transient ischemic attacks (TIAs; a “mini-stroke” that has symptoms similar to a stroke, but with no lasting brain damage)
- some types of blood disorders (such as sickle cell anemia)
- high alcohol consumption (for men, more than 14 drinks per week; for women, more than 9 drinks per week)
- recreational drug use (cocaine, amphetamines, and LSD)
- use of postmenopausal hormone therapy
Risk factors that cannot be controlled or treated include:
- age: stroke risk increases as you age, doubling every decade for people over 55 years of age
- gender: strokes are more common in men than in women, but women are more likely to die of stroke
- family history of stroke or heart disease
- ethnicity: first nations people and people of African or South Asian descent are more likely than people of European descent to have a stroke
- personal history of heart attack or stroke: if you have already had a stroke or heart attack, you’re more likely to have a stroke.
- low birth weight
If you’re concerned that you might be at risk, speak to your healthcare professional. They will be able to help you find ways to deal with the risk factors that can be controlled.
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