Glossary of Terms

A glossary of terms is available to help you find the meaning of common words related to stroke care.

A glossary of terms is available to help you find the meaning of common words related to stroke care.

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Activities of daily living (ADLs): Things we do each day, including personal care. Examples of ADLs are eating, washing and showering, grooming, walking, standing up from a chair and using the toilet.

Activity: A task or action done by a person. ‘Activity limitations’ refers to the difficulties that a person may have in doing certain activities.

Aneurysm: A bulging, weak area in the wall of a blood vessel (artery). The bursting of an aneurysm in a brain artery causes a hemorrhagic stroke.

Angiography or Angiogram: A test in which dye is injected into blood vessels which are then examined using X-rays. The test gives information about the condition of the blood vessels and detects if there are blood clots.

Anticoagulant: Medication used to prevent blood from clotting. These types of drugs are used to prevent ischemic stroke.

Antiplatelet agents: Medications that prevent platelets from binding together to form a blood clot. These medications are used to prevent ischemic stroke.

Aphasia: Loss of the ability to use or understand language because of an injury to the part of the brain that controls the ability to speak, understand, read and/ or write.

Aspiration: When food, fluid or saliva goes into the airway leading to the lungs. This can result in an infection such as pneumonia.

Assistive technology: Technology designed to help a person to function and perform daily activities.

Atherosclerosis: Hardening or narrowing of the arteries caused by build-up of fatty deposits. This reduces blood flow through the artery and can cause a stroke.

Atrial fibrillation: Very fast, irregular pumping of the heart muscle in the upper chambers of the heart (the atria). As a result, the heart cannot pump blood around the body effectively and blood clots can form in the heart which may cause a stroke.

Augmentative and alternative communication: A term used to describe extra ways of helping people who find it hard to communicate. AAC includes gestures, strategies, materials or technology to help people communicate more easily.

Cardiorespiratory fitness: A measure of how well the heart and lungs can supply oxygen to muscles during sustained activity. Good cardiorespiratory fitness means the heart can deliver oxygen to working muscles and the muscles can use the oxygen to work for long periods of time.

Carotid angioplasty or stenting: A procedure used to open narrowed carotid arteries to allow better blood flow to the brain. A small expandable tube (stent) is permanently inserted into the carotid artery to hold it open. After time, the cells in the blood vessel will grow through and around the stent to help hold it in place.

Carotid artery disease: Carotid arteries are the main blood vessels in the neck that supply blood to your brain. Carotid artery disease occurs when these arteries become narrowed or blocked. Carotid artery disease is a serious health problem because it can cause a stroke.

Carotid doppler: A non-invasive test that uses high frequency sound waves to determine the amount of blood flow through the blood vessels in the neck (carotid arteries) or the extent to which the vessels may be narrowed. It is also called a carotid ultrasound.

Carotid endarterectomy: An operation to unblock narrowed carotid arteries in your neck.

Cerebral hemisphere: One side of the brain.

Cerebral infarct: An area of damaged cells in the brain caused by a loss of blood flow to that area (an ischemic stroke).

Cognition: A word used to explain the ability to think. It includes mental activities such as remembering, paying attention, solving problems and making decisions.

Community reintegration: The ability to take part in meaningful activities of daily living, community interests and life roles after a stroke. The person with stroke, family, friends, stroke recovery associations, rehabilitation programs and the community are all important for successful community reintegration.

Comorbid condition: Other diseases or conditions a person may have in addition to the most recent health issues.

Computed Tomography (CT or CAT) scan: A test that uses X-rays to take a series of pictures of the brain or other body organs. It is one of the first tests done for someone suspected of having a stroke. A CT scan can usually identify whether a stroke was due to bleeding (hemorrhagic stroke) or a blockage (ischemic stroke).

Computed Tomography Angiogram (CTA): A test that uses X-rays to see blood flow in arteries throughout the body such as the brain, lungs, kidneys, arms and legs.

Computed Tomography Perfusion (CTP) scan: A special type of CT scan where a dye is injected into the blood vessels to show which areas of the brain are getting enough blood.

Day hospital: An outpatient setting where rehabilitation is provided by a team of health professionals.

Deep vein thrombosis: A clot that blocks the flow of blood in the deep veins of the leg, arm or abdomen.

Delirium: An abnormal mental state which can be caused by many things. Delirium may appear as confusion, fear, irritability, agitation and/or sleepiness.

Depression: Depression is a mood disorder that causes a lasting feeling of sadness and loss of interest. It’s more than just feeling ‘blue’. It affects how you feel, think and behave and can lead to a variety of emotional and physical problems. You may have trouble doing normal day-to-day activities, and depression may make you feel as if life isn’t worth living. Depression isn’t a weakness or something that you can simply ‘snap out’ of. It may require long- term treatment. Most people with depression feel better with medication, psychological counselling or both.

Diabetes: A disease in which the body does not make insulin or use it properly. Insulin is a hormone made by the pancreas that changes sugar and starch into the energy needed for daily life.

Disability: A physical or mental condition that limits a person’s ability to function. A disability may affect such things as vision, walking, learning or speaking.

Dysarthria: Inability to speak clearly due to weakness of the muscles needed to form words and sounds.

Dysphagia: Difficulty swallowing due to weakness of the muscles of the mouth or throat.

Echocardiogram (Echo, 2D Echo, or Cardiac Echo): Painless ultrasound waves are used to take a picture of the heart and the circulating blood. The ultrasound probe may be placed on the chest (Trans-Thoracic Echocardiogram or TTE) or deep in the throat (Trans-Esophageal Echocardiogram or TEE).

Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG): A test that records the electrical activity of the heart. It is used to find abnormal heart rhythms, which can affect how well blood flows through the body. When blood does not flow well there is a greater risk of developing a blood clot that can lead to a stroke.

Electroencephalogram (EEG): A test that records the electrical activity of the brain from electrodes attached to the scalp.

Embolic stroke: A stroke caused by a blood clot that has come from somewhere else in the body (an embolus).

Embolus: A fragment of a blood clot that breaks away and gets stuck in an artery blocking blood flow.

Emergency medical services (EMS): Often called paramedics or first responders. They complete the initial assessment during medical emergencies and provide transport to hospital for persons with illnesses and injuries who require further medical attention.

Emotional lability: Bursts of extreme emotions (such as laughing or crying) that a person cannot control. There is often no real cause for the emotional response.

Enteral tube: Delivery of nutrients directly into the digestive system via a tube.

Exercise therapy: Using exercises as treatment to improve physical, cognitive and/or speech abilities.

Gait: A manner of walking, stepping or running.

Hemiparesis: Weakness on one side of the body due to a stroke. The degree of weakness can vary from mild, moderate to severe. This may also be associated with changes in feeling, numbness or tingling.

Hemiplegia: Complete loss of movement on one side of body due to a stroke. Sometimes referred to as a complete paralysis.

Hemorrhagic stroke: A stroke caused by the rupture of an artery within the brain.

  • Intracerebral hemorrhage occurs when a diseased blood vessel within the brain bursts, allowing blood to leak inside the brain. The word ‘intracerebral’ means within the cerebrum or brain.
  • Subarachnoid hemorrhage occurs when a blood vessel ruptures and blood fills the subarachnoid space surrounding the brain (the space between the thin tissues that the surround the brain). Symptoms may include a sudden, intense headache, neck pain, and nausea or vomiting.

Holter monitor: A portable device worn around the neck and shoulders that records the electrical activity of the heart. A holter monitor is similar to an electrocardiogram but allows the information to be recorded over longer periods of time (24 to 48 hours) either in hospital or at home.

Hyperlipidemia: Also known as high cholesterol. A condition where there is high levels of lipids (or fats) in the blood. It can be due to family history and/or the types of food a person eats.

Hypertension: Also known as high blood pressure. Blood pressure is high when it is 140 ⁄ 90 or above on repeated readings. High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for stroke.

Impairment: A problem with a body structure (such as loss of a limb) or the way a body part functions (such as hemiplegia).

Infarction: Death of cells in an organ (such as the brain or heart) due to lack of blood and oxygen to the area.

International normalized ratio (INR): A blood test that measures the ability of blood to clot properly. This ratio can be used to assess both bleeding and clotting abilities. The INR is commonly used to monitor the effectiveness of anticoagulants such as warfarin.

Ischemia: Lack of adequate blood flow to part of the body (such as the brain) because of blockage or constriction of the arteries that supply it.

Lipid: Another word for “fat”.

Lobe: A main part of the brain. There are four lobes: frontal, parietal, temporal and occipital.

Long-term care home (LTC): A facility that provides ongoing nursing care to residents who need help with activities of daily living. People may live in LTC homes when it becomes difficult for them to manage in their own homes.

Commonly called a nursing home.

Magnetic Resonance Angiogram (MRA): A newer imaging technique used to detect any blockage or hardening of the arteries in the neck or brain. Similar to MRI, MRA uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves to make an image of the blood vessels.

Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): A test used to examine the brain and other parts of the body. MRI uses a non-harmful magnetic field and radio waves to make a three-dimensional image of a part of the body such as the brain. These images are more detailed than CT scans. Sometimes called nuclear magnetic resonance or NMR.

Mobility: The ability to move. This can refer to walking, standing up, or transferring from one surface to another.

Naso-gastric tube (NG tube): A tube that is passed through the nose down the throat into the stomach to allow for feeding when a person has swallowing problems.

Neglect: Failure to attend to or respond to one side of the body or environment due to stroke.

Non-invasive test: A test that does not involve tools that break the skin or enter the body.

Obstructive sleep apnea: A problem with breathing that includes heavy snoring and interrupted breathing during sleep. It is a risk factor for stroke.

Paralysis: Loss of movement in a part of the body.

Perception: The way the brain interprets what one sees.

Percutaneous endoscopic gastrostomy (PEG): A form of feeding in which nutrition is delivered through a tube that is surgically inserted into the stomach or intestine through the skin. Also known as a gastric tube.

Plaque: A fatty buildup of cholesterol and calcium inside an artery.

Power of Attorney (POA): A legal agreement to appoint another person to make financial, property and health decisions if someone is not able to make his or her own decisions. The appointed person is called a Substitute Decision Maker (SDM) and makes decisions about personal matters in the best interests of that person.

Pulmonary embolism: A serious medical condition caused by a blockage of the pulmonary artery (which carries blood from the heart to the lungs), usually by a blood clot or fat.

Recovery: The process a person experiences to restore health, wellness and function after illness.

Rehabilitation: The process of restoring health, wellness, function and independence after illness through therapy provided by a team of health professionals.

  • Inpatient rehabilitation: Therapy offered in a hospital setting.
  • Outpatient rehabilitation: Therapy offered in a community setting such as a day hospital, rehabilitation centre or clinic.

Respite care/services: Short term and temporary care for persons with stroke to allow caregivers time away from their caregiving responsibilities.

Spasticity: Increase in muscle tone when muscles are constantly tight or stiff. This can lead to pain, loss of range of motion and difficulty with function.

Statins: Group of medications used to lower cholesterol.

Stenosis: Narrowing of an artery due to build-up of plaque on the inside wall of an artery.

Stroke prevention clinic: An outpatient clinic that provides stroke prevention services, including early assessment, risk factor management, education and follow up to help prevent another stroke or TIA.

Stroke unit: A specialized hospital unit with designated beds for stroke care. A stroke unit has a team of health professionals with expertise in stroke care and processes in place to enable better outcomes for persons with stroke.

Task-specific training: Exercises that involve repeating a task or part of the task to improve one’s skill level.

Thrombolytic: A medication that dissolves or splits up a blood clot.

Tissue Plasminogen Activator (tPA): A clot-busting drug used to treat heart attack and ischemic stroke. It is most effective if given soon after the symptoms of a stroke begin.

Tone: Healthy muscles are never fully relaxed. They have some level of tension or resistance to movement that is called muscle tone. Too little muscle tone describes muscles that are floppy. Too much muscle tone describes muscles that are tight and have spasms (spasticity).

Transient Ischemic attack (TIA): A temporary interruption of blood supply to the brain. Often called a “mini-stroke”. Symptoms may last from a few minutes to up to 24 hours and leave no permanent deficit. It is still important to get immediate medical help if you have a TIA.

Videofluoroscopic swallow study: A test done by a speech-language pathologist for a person who has trouble swallowing. An X-ray is taken of the person as they swallow food and drink with different textures. This test helps determine if the person can safely eat and drink.

Glossary adapted from Lindsay MP, Gubitz G, Bayley M, Hill MD, Davies-Schinkel C, Singh S, and Phillips S. Canadian Best Practice Recommendations for Stroke Care (Update 2010). On behalf of the Canadian Stroke Strategy Best Practice and Standards Writing Group. 2010; Ottawa, Ontario Canada: Canadian Stroke Network. Appendix 5. For a more comprehensive list of stroke