I have diabetes and want to learn more about stroke risk reduction

Learn more about strokes, stroke causes, why people with diabetes are more at risk, and why it's so important to reduce your risk.

What is a stroke?

A stroke is a sudden interruption of blood flow to the brain. Without the oxygen and nutrients carried by the blood, brain cells begin to die. The longer blood flow is interrupted, the greater the risk of permanent brain damage and death.

Here are the most common types of stroke:

Type of stroke What happens
Ischemic stroke (80% of strokes)

A blood clot blocks blood flow to the brain. Ischemic strokes may be:

  • thrombotic: A blood clot forms in a blood vessel in the brain and blocks it.
  • embolic: A blood clot forms in another part of the body (such as the heart), moves into the brain, and blocks a blood vessel.
Hemorrhagic stroke (20% of strokes) Blood vessels rupture in the brain, causing blood to leak out. The leaking blood and the interruption of normal blood flow damage the brain.

Depending on the part of the brain affected, strokes can affect your vision, mobility, thoughts, memory, and speech. See "How could a stroke affect my health and lifestyle?" to learn more.

Some people may have a "mini-stroke," also called a TIA (transient ischemic attack). With a TIA, the blood flow to the brain is temporarily blocked. A TIA causes the same symptoms as a stroke, but the symptoms usually disappear within 24 hours. However, a TIA is still very serious because it could still cause brain damage, and because it is a warning that you are at risk of a stroke.

What is diabetes?

Diabetes is a medical condition that occurs when the body does not make enough insulin or does not effectively use the insulin that it makes. Insulin is a hormone that moves sugar from the blood into the body's cells, where it is used for energy.

Diabetes is extremely common - in 2009, over 3 million Canadians had diabetes, and the number of Canadians with diabetes is projected to rise to 3.7 million by 2020.

There are 2 main types of diabetes:

  • type 1 diabetes (10% of all people with diabetes): Usually diagnosed in childhood or adolescence, this type of diabetes occurs when the body cannot make any insulin.
  • type 2 diabetes (90% of all people with diabetes): Usually diagnosed in adulthood (but can also appear in children), this type of diabetes occurs when the body does not make enough insulin or cannot efficiently use the insulin it does make.

Diabetes causes high blood sugar levels. If left uncontrolled, it can cause serious health problems* such as:

  • stroke
  • heart attack
  • eye damage
  • nerve damage
  • kidney damage
  • erectile dysfunction (problems getting or keeping an erection)

*This list includes common health problems caused by diabetes (diabetes complications) but is not a complete list of all possible diabetes complications. Some people may have additional complications not listed above.

Diabetes is diagnosed by testing blood sugar. Symptoms of diabetes may include thirst, frequent urination, weight changes, fatigue, blurred vision, slow healing of cuts and bruises, or tingling hands and feet. Some people may not have any symptoms.

Find out how to manage your diabetes to reduce your risk of stroke.

How does diabetes increase my stroke risk?

If you have diabetes, you are at least twice as likely to have heart disease or a stroke compared to people without diabetes. You may also develop heart disease or have strokes at an earlier age than other people.

Here's how diabetes increases your stroke risk:

Diabetes causes high blood sugar levels.
Over time, fatty plaques build up in the walls of your blood vessels.
Fatty plaques block blood vessels in the brain. If this happens in the brain, it can cause a stroke.

Diabetes also makes you more likely to get high blood pressure. High blood pressure is another risk factor for stroke.

You can take action to reduce your risk of stroke. Get your diabetes under control and you could reduce your stroke risk dramatically.

Learn more about other stroke risk factors, and find out what you can do to reduce your risk.

What are the symptoms of a stroke?

Stroke warning signs

Learn to recognize the warning signs of stroke. If you see them, respond immediately by calling 9-1-1 or your local emergency number. It can significantly improve survival and recovery.

Weakness - Sudden loss of strength or sudden numbness in the face, arm or leg, even if temporary.
Trouble speaking - Sudden difficulty speaking or understanding or sudden confusion, even if temporary.
Vision problems -Sudden trouble with vision, even if temporary.
Headache - Sudden severe and unusual headache.
Dizziness - Sudden loss of balance, especially with any of the above signs.

If you experience any of these symptoms, call 9-1-1 or your local emergency number immediately.

© Reproduced with the permission of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada, 2011.

Print the stroke warning signs and put them on your fridge or in your wallet.

This list includes common stroke warning signs but is not a complete list of all possible warning signs. Some people may have additional warning signs not listed above.

How could a stroke affect my health and lifestyle?

The effects of a stroke vary from person to person: some people die, others recover completely, but many have effects that could last a lifetime.

Here's what could happen to you after a stroke:

Death 15%
Very severe disability (you will need long-term care) 10%
Moderate-to-severe disability (you can function on your own but with difficulty) 40%
Mild disability (your disability is inconvenient but does not have a major impact on your life) 25%
Complete recovery 10%

A stroke can affect many different parts of your life, depending on the areas of the brain that were damaged:

Type of problem What could happen? How could this affect my life?
Physical problems

You could have weakness or paralysis along one side of your body, painful muscle spasms, vision changes (double vision or "blind spots"), difficulty swallowing, constant pain, poor balance, or a loss of fine motor skills (the ability to make small, precise movements).

It might be harder for you to get around and do your usual activities.
Mental challenges

You could have trouble speaking, understanding speech, remembering recent events, or learning and remembering new information.

You could also have personality changes, poor judgment, and impulsive behaviour.
It could be harder for you to do your job and function day to day.
Emotional changes

You may also feel frustrated, angry, depressed, or emotionally out of control.

This could put a strain on your relationships.

Some of these problems may improve over time. Stroke rehabilitation can help people regain some of the function they have lost and live life to the fullest.

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