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Stroke

Learn about the signs of stroke, and stroke prevention, recovery and support in B.C.

A stroke is a medical emergency

Knowing the signs of stroke and acting quickly can improve your chances of survival and recovery. Think FAST when you or someone you are with could be experiencing a stroke.

If you or someone you are with experiences any of these signs, call 9-1-1. Do not drive yourself or the person having a stroke to the hospital – call an ambulance. Paramedics are trained to get you to the best hospital for stroke care. 

Remember:

  • Symptoms of stroke come on suddenly, usually without any warning at all.
  • Even signs of stroke that only last for a short period of time and then disappear require emergency attention.
  • Denial of stroke symptoms is common but stroke is treatable and immediate medical attention is critical to recovery.
  • Stroke can happen at any age so do not assume that just because a person is young or otherwise healthy that their symptoms could not be a stroke.

See the Heart & Stroke Foundation for more information on signs of stroke.

COVID-19 and Stroke

Page updated: May 17, 2021

Resources for people living with stroke + their caregivers:

What is a stroke?

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 three main types of stroke:

Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA) is caused by a small clot that briefly blocks a blood vessel in your brain. It is sometimes called a mini-stroke or warning stroke. The TIA symptoms usually last less than an hour, and many only last a few minutes. TIAs are an important warning that a more serious stroke may occur soon. They are a medical emergency – call 9-1-1.

Ischemic stroke is caused by a blockage or clot in a blood vessel in your brain. The blockage can be caused when a substance called plaque builds up on the inside wall of an artery.

Hemorrhagic stroke is caused when an artery in the brain breaks open. The interrupted blood flow causes damage to your brain. High blood pressure weakens arteries over time and is a major cause of hemorrhagic stroke. 

Definitions and images from Heart & Stroke.

There are two main types of risk factors for stroke – modifiable (things you can change) and non-modifiable (things you cannot change). You can help decrease your risk of having a stroke by learning more about your risk factors.

Stroke risks you can change

Stroke risks you cannot change

  • Sex
  • Age: Risk of stroke increases with age
  • Family and medical history: Past strokes, high blood pressure and family history increase your chance of a stroke
  • Heritage: People of South Asian, African and Indigenous heritage are at higher risk of stroke

Take the Heart & Stroke risk assessment to better understand your risk for heart disease and stroke, and how to lower your risk.

‎There are a number of videos and stories from people living with brain injury – including stroke. Please visit Brainstreams or Stroke Recovery Association of BC to see videos on:

 

Preventing a stroke

Almost 80 per cent of strokes can be prevented through making healthy choices and managing risk factors, including:

  • Eating healthy
  • Being physically active
  • Living smoke free
  • Reducing stress
  • Talking to your doctor about managing blood pressure and/or taking prescribed medications

The Heart & Stroke Foundation’s resources can help you adopt a healthier lifestyle to reduce your stroke risk.

HealthLink BC also has information about disease prevention, healthy eating and physical activity with specific information such as heart health that also applies to stroke prevention.

Stroke care

The stroke continuum model below describes the elements of stroke care that patients and families experience on their journey with stroke. Your journey recovering after stroke will be unique and may not be a straight line through this continuum.

Awareness is about giving people the information they need to recognize and respond to stroke.

Primary prevention of stroke means managing risk factors to stop a first stroke or TIA event from happening. It usually happens in the home or in community based settings such as your family doctor’s office, when a doctor, nurse, pharmacist or patient starts a conversation about reducing stroke risk.

 

Acute stroke management generally refers to the care you receive within the first five to seven days after a stroke. This includes the hyper-acute and acute phases of stroke care. Hyper-acute care focuses on urgent assessment to identify the type and cause of the stroke. Where possible, it focuses on reducing the impact of the stroke and protecting the brain with medical therapies. Acute care focuses on medical management of the stroke, initial assessment by the multidisciplinary team, and planning for the next phase of care to promote recovery.

 

Secondary prevention of stroke is managing known risk factors to prevent another stroke or TIA from happening. Secondary prevention can take place in a variety of settings, including acute care, stroke prevention clinics, and community-based care settings such as your family doctor’s office.

 

Stroke rehabilitation is the active, assisted, and goal-directed recovery process that generally occurs over the first few months after stroke. Stroke rehabilitation helps people continue to live as independently as possible after a stroke, and to adjust to the physical and mental changes caused by a stroke. In stroke rehab, a team of health professionals works with a patient to regain skills lost as the result of a stroke. Rehab starts in the hospital and continues at a rehab centre or at home.

 

Stroke recovery and community participation is when a person is no longer actively involved with the health care system and is resuming their day-to-day life after stroke.

 

End-of-life stroke care is the management and care for patients and families when stroke results in death. This may occur early after the stroke or may be some time later as a result of complications from the stroke.


Transitions in care happen between each of these stages. The periods of transition can be unsettling times as people adapt to living with stroke. Talking with your doctor and health care team to ensure that you and your family are prepared for upcoming transitions can help them feel more successful.


The Heart and Stroke Foundation and Stroke Recovery Association of BC have a number of guides, videos and listings of community resources and services to help you navigate your way through the continuum of stroke care.

Stroke recovery often involves a large team of people who each bring their own expertise to your care. The members on your team will be based on your needs and could include: 

  • You and your family, experts on you, your life, and needs
  • Neurologists, doctors who specialize in brain health
  • Physiatrists, doctors who specialize in rehabilitation
  • Family doctors, who are experts on your general health
  • Nurses, who work closely with you through all stages of recovery
  • Occupational therapists, who work to get you back to daily tasks like dressing, bathing, and leisure
  • Physiotherapists, who work with you to recover your physical abilities, strength and balance
  • Speech-language pathologists, who help you with swallowing or communication challenges
  • Social workers, who help you with social and emotional well-being
  • Dietitians, who ensure you are getting the right nutrition
  • Pharmacists, who teach you about your medications
  • Neuropsychologists, who assess your cognitive or thinking abilities and mental health
  • Educators, who help you learn about your stroke and its effects on you
  • Recreational therapists, who help you adapt your preferred leisure activities  

This list is adapted from The Heart and Stroke Foundation’s Your Stroke Journey.

 

After you've had a stroke, it can be difficult to know where to get additional information on the support and resources you might need. 

This is not a complete list; if you are still struggling to find or access the resources you need, please speak to your doctor or health care provider.

Health authorities

If you have questions or concerns about your care, please speak to your health care team directly. If you are unable to resolve the issue, then you may find support from your local Patient Care Quality Office.

Patient Care Quality Offices:

Vancouver Coastal Health
Providence Health
Fraser Health
Interior Health
Northern Health
Vancouver Island Health

Stroke organizations
  • The Heart & Stroke Foundation has a directory of resources to help you navigate the health-care system and life after stroke
  • The Stroke Recovery Association of BC provides community navigation services, stroke recovery programs, education and information, and a variety of resources for people living with stroke and their families.
  • The BC Brain Injury Association has education and resources available on their website, including a directory of resources in BC.
  • Family Caregivers of BC provides support, resources, and education for people caring for an adult with a chronic disease, disability, or mental health or age-related challenges.

Financial 

Depending on your current situation, financial assistance for disability is possible through the federal or provincial government. 

Getting around
Support for people with disabilities
Peer support
  • Heart & Stroke Foundation of BC has online peer communities where people living with stroke and their families can receive and give support.
  • The Heart & Stroke Foundation's monthly Community Connect newsletter also sheds light on news and engagement opportunities that may be of importance to people living with stroke, caregivers and families.
  • The March of Dimes After Stroke Program offers many option for people, including peer support and online virtual programs.

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