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Cerebrovascular Disease and Stroke

Cerebrovascular disease refers to a group of conditions that affect the blood vessels and blood supply to the brain and can lead to a stroke. It can be caused atherosclerosis, where plaque builds up in the arteries or aneurysms that burst.

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain is blocked or bursts. Without blood and the oxygen it carries, part of the brain starts to die and can’t work properly.

There are two types of stroke:

  1. An ischemic stroke is the most common type. It happens when a blood clot forms in a blood vessel or travels from somewhere else in the circulatory system and blocks a blood vessel in the brain. Or, when blood flow to the brain is restricted due to plaque buildup.
  2. A hemorrhagic stroke is less common but more deadly. It develops when an artery in the brain leaks or bursts, causing bleeding inside or near the surface of the brain.

Brain damage can begin within minutes, so it’s important to recognize stroke symptoms. Quick treatment can help limit damage and increase the chance of recovery. If you have symptoms that seem like a stroke, even if they go away quickly, you may have had a transient ischemic attack (TIA), sometimes called a mini-stroke. A TIA might be a warning that a stroke could happen, so speaking to your health care practitioner and getting treatment may help prevent one.

How can I lower my risk of stroke?

Nine in ten Canadians have at least one risk factor for stroke and knowing your risk factors is the first step in preventing one. For example, you can reduce your risk by having regular medical checkups and focusing on treatable risk factors like:

  • High blood pressure – the leading cause of stroke. It important to know your blood pressure, have it checked yearly, and work with your doctor to lower it if it’s too high.
  • Smoking – damages blood vessels and can lead to blockages.
  • Diabetes – more than doubles your risk of stroke, so it’s important to work with your doctor to manage your diabetes.
  • High cholesterol – increases the risk of blocked arteries.
  • Physical inactivity and obesity – it’s important to say active and maintain a healthy weight and diet.
  • Heart disease – can lead to an increased chance of blockages or clots.
  • Illegal drug use and sleep apnea – are both linked to an increased risk of stroke.

It’s also important to be aware of non-treatable risk factors like age, gender, heredity, race, and history of prior stroke or TIA. If your risk of stroke is high, speaking to your health care practitioner about possible lifestyle changes and regular screening options can help lower your risk. Almost 80 percent of premature strokes can be prevented through healthy behaviours.

What are the main symptoms of stroke?

Recognizing these stroke symptoms helps determine when to call for medical help FAST:

  • Face drooping.
  • Arm weakness.
  • Speech difficulty.
  • Time to call 911.

For more information on stroke, visit the Heart and Stroke Foundation website.


American Heart Association. (2017) Risk Factors for Stroke. Accessed February 15, 2018.

Healthwise Staff (2017) Stroke. Accessed February 13, 2018.

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada. (2018) Stroke. Accessed February 15, 2018.

Public Health Agency of Canada. (2017) About stroke. Government of Canada. Accessed February 13, 2018.

Size, G., et al. (2016) Inside Ultrasound Vascular Reference Guide. Pasadena, California, Davies Publishing.

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