Everything you ever wanted to know about strokes

Don’t hesitate to call 9-1-1, Jewish Rehab clinician tells seniors

Everything you ever wanted to know about strokes
Suzie Gagnon, a staff nurse clinician at the Jewish Rehabilitation Hospital, holds up a scale model to demonstrate the impact of strokes on arteries during her presentation at the Agape English-speaking Senior Wellness Centre on Nov. 29. Photo: Martin C. Barry
Martin C. Barry

What should you do if you suspect that you or a loved one may be having symptoms of an on-coming stroke?

According to an expert who spoke at the Agape English-speaking Senior Wellness Centre in Chomedey last week, you shouldn’t hesitate to call 9-1-1.

Reacting fast crucial

That’s because what you do during the first few hours after the onset of a stroke will make all the difference in the severity of an attack, as well as the length of time it could take to recover following a stroke.

The technical phrase for a stroke is cerebro vascular accident (CVA), said Suzie Gagnon, a nurse/clinician at the Jewish Rehabilitation Hospital. However, there are many different kinds of strokes, all depending on which of the many zones of the brain are affected.

“Some people will have a stroke in the frontal lobe,” she said. “Some of them it’s going to be in the parietal lobe. It could be in the occipital, temporal, brain stem. Depending where it is you’ll have different symptoms.”

A hopeful message

Although she described some of the serious damage that strokes do to the brain and the consequent symptoms, Gagnon was quick to reassure the overflow crowd of seniors at the Wellness Centre.

“Don’t worry, there’s hope at the end,” she said, noting that modern medicine has come up with a wider range of effective treatments than ever for stroke. All the same, stroke remains one of the most challenging medical conditions faced by patients.

As Gagnon pointed out, the main risk factor for stroke is high blood pressure. Other risk factors include tobacco smoking, obesity, high blood cholesterol, diabetes and atrial fibrillation (an abnormal heart rhythm characterized by rapid and irregular beating).

Types of stroke

There are two types of stroke: ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke. The former is typically caused by blockage of a blood vessel. The latter is caused by either bleeding directly into the brain or into the space between the brain’s membranes. Blood clots that form and circulate in the blood stream are also a crucial factor.

And then there is the Transient ischemic attack (TIA), the so-called “mini stroke,” said Gagnon. “The blood circulates well, but then suddenly there’s a blockage. But a few minutes later, maybe one hour later, everything returns to normal. The blood clot dissolves and the circulation returns.”

Check for symptoms

She advised that when these types of symptoms manifest themselves, “it’s a serious warning sign of a stroke. You have 50 per cent risk of having a stroke in the next 48 hours.” As well, you can remain at risk of a stroke for up to three months under these circumstances, she added.

Her advice? “I want you to go to the hospital, even if it went away,” she said. “There’s a reason why it happens. Maybe your blood pressure is too high. Maybe your diabetes is not well controlled. Maybe you have a carotid which is blocked. We have to do some tests to see why it’s happening. So please go to the hospital. And, like I said, emergency.”

Good news about stroke

Although the physical consequences of stroke can include anything from limb weakness in minor cases, to partial or complete paralysis with major strokes, Gagnon’s good news was that “it’s all reversible” with the proper treatment. For that reason, she continued, “I want you to learn those symptoms” to better respond.

During the presentation, two handouts published by the Heart & Stroke Foundation were presented to all participants. The first, a quick reference card, offers some handy information on learning the signs of stroke. The second, a booklet offering more comprehensive information on stroke, summarized a good deal of the information in Gagnon’s presentation.

Attendance good at centre

Located at 3860 Notre Dame Blvd. Suite 305 in Chomedey, the Agape English-speaking Senior Wellness Centre offers a range of activities and presentations related to health and well-being for seniors throughout the year.

There was capacity attendance at last week’s presentation. Agape executive-director Kevin McLeod said in an interview afterwards that the Wellness Centre has become so popular that the organization is currently looking for larger premises to accommodate everyone.