Prevent stroke and disability by knowing the risk factors and warning signs

June is Stroke Awareness Month across Canada. Stroke is the leading cause of adult disability in this country and the third leading cause of death, according to the Ontario Stroke Network. The risk of stroke increases with age and two-thirds of strokes occur among people over 65.

According to medical experts, better awareness is the key to preventing a stroke, or lasting disability if a stroke occurs. You can lower your risk of stroke by adopting the same lifestyle habits that you follow for a healthy heart. If you know the warning signs of stroke and get early medical help, this substantially improves your chances of getting rapid treatment to reduce the effects of a stroke and having the fullest possible recovery.

How to minimize your risk

Senior Male Working With PhysiotherapistCertain lifestyle changes can help prevent a stroke. The risk of stroke can be greatly reduced by avoiding smoking, doing regular physical activity, managing stress effectively, eating healthy and nutritious foods, avoiding sodium and maintaining a healthy weight, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Regular checkups with your doctor are also important. Because early detection and management of conditions that raise your chances of stroke—diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and atrial fibrillation and flutter—can help prevent stroke, too, advises the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Five warning signs

Recognizing the warning signs of a stroke and acting quickly could mean the difference between life and death, or between full recovery and lasting disability. For each hour after a stroke in which treatment doesn’t occur, the brain loses as many brain cells as it does in almost 3.6 years of normal aging, according to the Ontario Stroke Network.

A person could be having a stroke, says Health Canada, if they suddenly experience any of these signs and symptoms:

1) Weakness - sudden weakness, numbness or tingling in your face, arm or leg.

2) Trouble speaking - sudden temporary loss of speech or trouble understanding what people are saying.

3) Vision problems - sudden loss of vision or trouble seeing out of one or both eyes.

4) Headache - sudden severe headache for no reason.

5) Dizziness - sudden loss of balance, trouble walking, dizziness, or a sudden fall, especially with any of the warning signs above.

If you experience any of these warning signs or notice someone else having them, call 911 right away. There is now medication that, if given in the early stages of a stroke, can help minimize the effects.