Tracking Heart Disease and Stroke in Canada - Stroke Highlights 2011

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Acute stroke is a sudden loss of brain function that occurs when the blood flow supplying oxygen to a part of the brain is interrupted.

There are three major types of stroke: ischemic stroke (lack of blood flow to the brain due to a blood clot); intracerebral haemorrhage (bleeding within the brain); and atraumatic subarachnoid haemorrhage (rupture of an aneurysm at the base of the brain that causes bleeding into the lining of the brain).

While all three types can result in a loss of function, they differ with respect to whom they most often affect, their causes, treatments, and outcomes.

Stroke has a substantial impact in Canada.

  • In 2009, about 315,000 (1.1%) of Canadians living in the community reported that they suffer from the effects of a strokeFootnote 1. This estimate excludes people living in institutions, and it is known that many stroke survivors who require rehabilitative care live in complex continuing care facilities.
  • Stroke is a leading cause of death and disability, costing an estimated $3.6 billion for health care and lost productivity due to premature death and long-term disability in 2000Footnote 2.
  • In 2005/06, stroke was recorded as the main reason for 38,341 hospitalizations. Stroke was also recorded as a medical complication in an additional 12,123 hospitalizationsFootnote 3 Footnote 4.
  • In 2007, 11,276 deaths were attributed to stroke. Not only the elderly die from stroke: 1,159 deaths (10.3% of all stroke deaths) occurred in those under age 65 in 200Footnote 4 Footnote 5.
  • Hospital and death data under-report the true number of strokes in Canada. For example, current hospital data miss stroke that results in death before a person is able to reach a hospital, as well as silent stroke (that show no symptoms) which may not lead a person to seek medical attention. The Public Health Agency of Canada is expanding its Canadian Chronic Disease Surveillance System to capture these data.

Stroke has a substantial impact on individuals and families.

  • Between one-third and two-thirds of stroke survivors will experience a loss of function in physical, cognitive or communication skills that require some form of rehabilitationFootnote 6.
  • In 2005/06, 41.7% of individuals hospitalized for stroke were discharged home, 39.5% were transferred to another facility, while 18.3% died in hospitalFootnote 3 Footnote 4. Rehabilitation helps stroke survivors – whether they are discharged home or to another facility – develop the strength and confidence to live as independently as possible.

Stroke can be prevented.

  • The risk of stroke can be greatly reduced by avoiding smoking, participating in regular physical activity, managing stress effectively, choosing healthy nutrition including avoiding sodium, maintaining a healthy weight, and by the early detection and management of conditions such as atrial fibrillation and flutter, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
  • Many Canadians are at risk of having a stroke because of the presence of the following factors:
Proportion (%) of the population age 20+ years with:
Risk behaviours %
Smoking (current daily)Footnote 7 14.1
Physical inactivity (0≤ total daily expenditure ≤1.5kcal/kg/day)Footnote 1 47.8
Not enough vegetables and fruit (<5 servings daily)Footnote 1 54.9
Salt consumption:  
Does not avoid certain foods because of salt contentFootnote 1 43.1
Adds salt to food (excluding cooking)(always or often)Footnote 8 23.2
Adds salt during cooking or preparation (always or often)Footnote 8 41.0
Life stress (quite a bit or extremely)Footnote 1 24.1
Regular alcohol consumptionFootnote 1 65.1
Underlying health conditions  
Depression (≥2 weeks)Footnote 1 11.4
High blood pressureFootnote 9 22.7
Overweight (25-30 kg/mFootnote 2)Footnote 8 37.3
Obese (≥30 kg/mFootnote 2)Footnote 8 24.4
DiabetesFootnote 10 8.0
High total blood cholesterol (≥6.2mmol/L)Footnote 8 Footnote 11 13.1
Higher risk ApoA/ApoB ratioFootnote 8 Footnote 12  
Women (≥0.8)Footnote 13 16.3
Men (≥0.9) 15.6
Heart diseaseFootnote 1 5.1
Suffers from the effects of a strokeFootnote 1 1.2
  • High blood pressure is a key risk factor for stroke. In 2006/07, 5.8 million Canadians age 20 years and older had been diagnosed with high blood pressure. More than one in five adults with high blood pressure (22.7%) also had diabetesFootnote 4 Footnote 10.
  • Diabetes is a key risk factor for many chronic diseases, and rates have been increasing over time. In 2006/07, 2.1 million people were living with diagnosed diabetes in Canada. In 2006/07 alone over 200,000 Canadians were newly diagnosed with diabetesFootnote 4 Footnote 10.
  • Control of high blood pressure is improving – in 2007-2009, of Canadians with high blood pressure, two-thirds had control over their blood pressure through medicationFootnote 14. However, a continued focus on prevention is needed.
  • Currently, 9.5% of the Canadian population are being treated with lipid-lowering drug therapy. Among the adult Canadian population who are not being treated with lipid-lowering medications, 33.8% have optimal low-density lipoprotein – cholesterol (LDL-C) levels (<2.59 mmol/L), 50.7% have sub-optimal LDL-C levels (2.59 - <4.14 mmol/L), and 15.5% have uncontrolled high or very high LDL-C levels (≥4.14 mmol/L)Footnote 8. Current recommendations indicate that individuals with LDL-C levels ≥5.0 mmol/L should be treated with lipid-lowering medicationsFootnote 15. With suboptimal LDL-C levels (>3.5 mmol/L), management strategies to reduce the risk of stroke depend on an individual's risk score which takes into account a combination of factors such as age, diabetes, smoking, blood pressure, cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein – cholesterol (HDL-C) levels, and/or body mass indexFootnote 15.

Hospitalizations and deaths due to stroke have been declining over time.

Number and rate of hospitalizations and deaths due to stroke, Canada, 1979-2005Footnote 3 Footnote 5

Number and rate of hospitalizations and deaths due to stroke, Canada, 1979-2005
Text Equivalent - Figure 1

Figure 1: Number and rate of hospitalizations and deaths due to stroke, Canada, 1979-2005

The number and rate of hospitalizations and deaths due to stroke in Canada, from 1979 to 2005, are presented in this figure. The hospitalized number, crude rate, and age-standardized rate are based on the most responsible diagnosis for the length of stay in hospital. Prior to 1993/94, hospitalization data only included the ten Canadian provinces, and for 2002/03, data were not available for Nunavut. For both hospitalization and death data, the coding scheme changed in 2000/01 which may influence trends. Age-standardized rates are standardized to the 1991 Canadian population.

The aging of the population resulted in a rise in stroke hospitalizations and deaths until the early 1990s. Since then, despite the continued aging of the population, the number and rate of hospitalizations and deaths have steadily declined in all age groups and for both men and women.

  • The aging of the population resulted in a rise in stroke hospitalizations and deaths until the early 1990s. Since then, despite the continued aging of the population, the number and rate of hospitalizations and deaths have steadily declined in all age groups and for both men and women.
  • In addition to the general decline in hospitalizations over time, the number of return visits to hospital for stroke has declined as well.
  • The decline in hospitalizations and subsequent strokes may be the result of success in preventive measures but may also be influenced by changes in patterns of care, such as the management and care of minor stroke, transient ischemic attacks, and stroke patients in community-based programs rather than in hospital.

Projected trend in hospitalizations due to stroke, Canada, 2001-2020Footnote 3 Footnote 16

Projected trend in hospitalizations due to stroke, Canada, 2001-20203
Text Equivalent - Figure 2

Figure 2: Projected trend in hospitalizations due to stroke, Canada, 2001-2020

The projected trend in hospitalizations due to stroke in Canada for 2001 to 2020 is presented in this figure. Projections are based on a population age 60+ years. Actual hospitalization data were available to 2005, and the projections are based on trend analysis for disease rate, population growth, and aging of the population.

This figure shows that aging within the 60+ population itself will have a very small contribution. Largely influenced by the number of baby boomers becoming seniors, the past decrease in stroke hospitalizations is projected to flatten out and possibly increase in the future. More details can be found in footnote 17 of the fact sheet.

  • Largely influenced by the number of baby boomers becoming seniors, the past decrease in stroke hospitalizations is projected to flatten out and possibly increase in the futureFootnote 3 Footnote 16.

More information on stroke can be found in the 2009 Tracking Heart Disease and Stroke in Canada report published by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

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