Many people are aware of what a stroke is - but not everyone knows that a stroke is a brain injury. If your friend or family member has a stroke (or has had one in the past) they may experience cognitive, behavioural and physical effects that impact their abilities.
Topics in this section include:
- Types of stroke
- Identifying a stroke using FAST
- Effects of stroke
- Stroke and brain injury rehabilitation
- Risk factors
- Tips for helping individuals coping with stroke
- Resources and research
There are two kinds of strokes, both of which lead to brain injury.
- Hemorrhagic stroke
A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain leaks or bursts. This causes bleeding in the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes are not as common as ischemic strokes but are more life-threatening. Symptoms of hemorrhagic stroke include:
- Confusion or disorientation
- Dizziness, loss of balance
- Drooping/numbness in the face or body - particularly on one side
- Loss of consciousness
- Nausea, vomiting
- Slurred speech, trouble swallowing
- Sudden and severe headache
When a person has a hemorrhagic stroke, doctors will work fast and take the best course of action to control bleeding and relieve pressure on the brain. This could include surgery.
After the patient leaves the hospital, they will have a rehabilitation and treatment plan to follow.
- Ischemic stroke
An ischemic stroke is caused by a blocked blood vessel or a blood clot in the brain. This leads to less oxygen to the brain, causing stroke and brain damage. Blockages or clots are caused when arteries fill up with plaque. Blood and fat cells stick to the plaque, eventually blocking regular blood flow. Symptoms of ischemic stroke include:
- Drooping face
- Numb or weakened limbs
- Slurred speech
It’s important for ischemic strokes to be diagnosed and treated as early as possible to minimize permanent damage.
The key to minimizing the damage a stroke can do to the brain is getting medical attention as quickly as possible. The Heart and Stroke Foundation advocates using the FAST method to identify strokes in others. FAST stands for Face, Arms, Speech, and Time.
- Face - is it drooping?
- Arms - can both be raised?
- Speech - is it slurred
- Time - call 9-1-1 immediately
These are the main symptoms of stroke. Additional symptoms can include confusion, loss of consciousness, sudden and severe headaches, and nausea/vomiting.
A stroke causes damage to the brain, which can result in a variety of physical, emotional and cognitive effects that change a person’s ability to move, communicate and process information. These effects can include:
- Attention and memory deficits
- Balance challenges
- Bowel and bladder problems
- Emotional challenges, like depression
- Low energy
- Muscle weakness
- Paralysis – this can be localized (face, arm, or leg)
- Hemiplegia (paralysis on one side of the body)
- Quadriplegia (paralysis of all four limbs and trunk)
- Sensation changes
- Speech problems
- Swallowing problems (dysphagia)
- Vision problems
These changes can make it difficult to prepare food, drive, work, or complete leisure activities.
- More information on behavioural changes after a brain injury
- More information on cognitive changes after a brain injury
- More information on physical changes after a brain injury
- Heart and Stroke recovery resources
In the first few days, doctors will be trying to stabilize the person and make a medical diagnosis. Then recovery begins. The first stages of recovery can take different lengths of time for different people. Your friend or family member may feel tired and experience weakness. The medical team will work with them until they are able to move to rehabilitation and be discharged from the acute care or stroke ward of the hospital.
Rehabilitation will vary depending on the person’s needs, but the goals remain the same: to recover or adapt their abilities as best as possible. It will include physical, mental and cognitive exercises. It may also include working with a speech language pathologist (SLP) on speaking and swallowing. Occupational therapists (OT) can help with activities of daily living (ADLs), motor skills and home environments. Physical therapists (PT) can assist with muscle strengthening and range of motion (ROM) exercises. Rehabilitation takes a lot of time, practice and patience but it will help the stroke survivor regain as much independence as possible.
- More information on rehabilitation and rehabilitation specialists for brain injury
- Heart and Stroke information on stroke rehabilitation
There are several lifestyle and conditional factors that can increase a person’s risk of stroke.
- Blood pressure
- Substance use
Lifestyle changes can improve overall health while reducing risk of stroke. Conditional factors such as blood pressure and diabetes can be addressed with doctors, medications, and in some cases lifestyle adjustments.
- Canadian Partnership for Stroke Recovery
- Risk for Stroke High in Young Adult Marijuana Users
- Canadian Stroke Best Practice Recommendations Part One
- Canadian Stroke Best Practice Recommendations Part Two
- Frequency of Anxiety after Stroke
- Stroke Engine - information about stroke and rehabilitation
- 7 steps to recovery from the Stroke Association of British Columbia
- Videos about stroke recovery and living with stroke