Women's Health Matters

Text Size
Jump to body content

What is a stroke?

A stroke occurs when blood vessels in the brain either become blocked or burst. Vital tissue in a given area may die due to a lack of blood supply. The death of brain cells can result in temporary or permanent disabilities.

Types of Stroke

Ischemic strokes
About 80 percent of all strokes are ischemic strokes. Ischemic strokes (also called "mini strokes," transient ischemic attacks, or TIAs) occur when a blood clot blocks the passage of blood to a part of the brain. The clot may form in the brain in other parts of the body, for example, in the heart or neck arteries and is then carried to the brain via the bloodstream

Hemorrhagic strokes
Hemorrhagic strokes account for about 20 percent of all strokes. These occur when a blood vessel in or around the brain leaks or ruptures, and leads to uncontrolled bleeding in the brain. These strokes may be caused by structural problems or by ruptures of small arteries, which have been damaged by ongoing high blood pressure.

Effects of a Stroke

Because our brains are responsible for everything we do, think and say, a stroke can have a wide range of effects. Depending on the type of stroke and what part of the brain it affects, it can cause paralysis, an inability to talk, trouble remembering and/or learning, or other problems. About 60 per cent of those who suffer a stroke will be left with a permanent disability. Almost all stroke survivors recover to some extent.

For men, the average hospital stay following a stroke is 32 days, while women tend to stay longer, an average of 42 days. Often women stay longer because there is no one at home to care of them or because they are older when the stroke occurs.

Who Is at Risk for Stroke?

Risk factors for stroke include:

  • atherosclerosis (a fatty build up on the inner walls of the arteries, which can cause ischemic strokes and heart disease)
  • diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • smoking
  • high cholesterol
  • a family history of stroke (especially in a parent before age 55)
  • a previous stroke or TIA (also known as a transient ischemic attack or "mini stroke")
  • obesity (being more than 30 percent over your ideal body weight)
  • the use of oral contraceptives and hormone therapy among women over age 30, particularly if they smoke or have other risk factors such as obesity, high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease
  • age – your risk of stroke increases as you get older, although one third of all strokes occur in people under age 65
  • heavy drinking and the use of recreational drugs, such as cocaine and LSD
Jump to top page
  • A publication of:
  • Women's College Hospital