Stroke and Stroke Recovery
Every year, stroke causes around 140,000 deaths in the USA, and the damage to the economy due to stroke, on average, is a whopping $34 billion. The state of Illinois has recorded more than 6,000 annual deaths from strokes consistently in recent years, which is why awareness regarding the emergency medical condition is the need of the hour. With greater awareness, more lives can be saved through rapid stroke treatment. Let’s start things off with what a stroke is.
A brief overview of stroke
Our brain tissue requires a healthy combination of oxygen and various other nutrients to function at their optimum. It’s our blood that carries this vital combination to the brain. However, as soon as the blood is cut off from the tissues, brain cells and tissues start dying, resulting in severe neurological damage, and in the worst cases, death.
The way to reducing neurological damage and the risk of death by aiding stroke recovery is to give emergency medical care to a sufferer as early as possible. The greater the delay, the higher the risks.
When a person has a stroke, he/she may experience the following signs and symptoms:
- Sudden headaches: Most strokes happen in a matter of minutes, and sufferers typically experience a sudden and severe headache. Occasionally, severe headaches are accompanied by altered states of consciousness, vomiting, and/or dizziness.
- Walking difficulties: Due to lowered/blocked blood supply to the brain, sufferers may have trouble walking due to the inability to maintain balance and coordination.
- Speech troubles: Strokes cause confusion, and as a result of this confusion, sufferers may be unable to articulate their thoughts correctly, often resulting in slurred speech. Understanding what others are saying may also become a problem.
- Arm, leg, or face numbness/paralysis: A stroke often results in impairment in one side of the body, which may cause numbness or complete paralysis. Sufferers may experience this numbness/paralysis in their faces, arms, or legs.
- Vision problems: Strokes result in blurred vision, and in the most extreme cases, may cause temporary blindness. Double vision may also occur.
As strokes tend to strike suddenly and without warning, it may be difficult for a sufferer to seek medical help on his/her own. If you suspect that someone you are with is experiencing a stroke, apply the Face, Arms, Speech, Time (FAST) rule and identify the following signs:
- Face: Drooping, unable to smile properly
- Arms: Inability to keep both arms raised at the same time
- Speech: Problems in repeating simple phrases and slurred speech during an attempted repetition
- Time: On observing one or more of the symptoms mentioned above, call for emergency medical services without any delay
Different types of stroke
Stroke can be broadly classified into three types:
- Ischemic stroke: Ischemic strokes are the most common type of strokes, and they occur due to blocked or narrowed blood vessels in the brain, which cause a severe reduction in blood flow- a condition known as ischemia. The blood vessels become blocked or narrowed because of a buildup of fatty deposits, blood clots, or some other debris.
- Hemorrhagic stroke: The second most common kind of stroke, known as hemorrhagic stroke, involves the rupture or leak of one or more blood vessels in the brain. Hemorrhagic stroke may be triggered by factors such as overconsumption of blood-thinning medications, unchecked high blood pressure, trauma, blood vessel wall weakness caused by protein deposits, and an ischemic stroke that leads to subsequent hemorrhaging.
- Transient ischemic attack (TIA): TIAs are often referred to as ‘ministrokes’ as they are less likely to cause permanent brain damage than the two other types of stroke mentioned before. In TIAs, the reduced blood flow to the brain is temporary, and the condition typically resolves on its own but also signals the risk of a full-blown stroke that may occur in the future.
Susceptibility to stroke is increased in an individual when the following risk factors are present:
- Lack of exercise
- Excessive alcohol and tobacco consumption
- An unhealthy diet high in cholesterol, trans fats, saturated fats, and salt
- Pre-existing medical conditions such as high cholesterol, heart problems, and diabetes
- Genetic health disorders
An individual that has all these risk factors present is at a greater danger of suffering a stroke than a person with one or two factors.
Ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes have different treatments, and correct stroke diagnosis and treatment are vital to facilitate recovery. Some of the treatments for ischemic strokes include:
- Tissue plasminogen activator (tPA): tPA is a drug that can rapidly dissolve blood clots, and it is typically administered to stroke patients within 3 – 4 hours since the beginning of stroke symptoms. Stroke recovery treatment using tPA is the most successful and reduces long-term disability.
- Thrombectomy: Thrombectomy involves the insertion of a catheter into the affected blood vessel of the brain and manually pulling out the blood clots. It is effective only when it is performed within a 24 hour period since the onset of stroke symptoms.
Surgery may be necessary for treating hemorrhagic strokes if a burst aneurysm is detected.
Stroke alternative therapy has also become popular in recent times to help sufferers through their stroke rehabilitation period. Some of the alternative therapies for stroke include the consumption of vitamin or herbal supplements, massage, meditation, HBOT (hyperbaric therapy) and acupuncture. Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) is a medical treatment that involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized environment. HBOT has been studied as a possible treatment for stroke recovery, and there is some evidence to suggest that it may be beneficial. When a person experiences a stroke, part of their brain is deprived of oxygen, leading to damage and impaired function. HBOT may help to promote healing and recovery by increasing the amount of oxygen available to the brain tissue. By breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized environment, the amount of oxygen that dissolves in the blood is increased, allowing it to reach areas of the brain that may be damaged. One of the theories about HBOT benefits for patients with post-stroke recovery is implying that HBOT is increasing the number of synaptic connections in the brain and therefore improving brain neuroplasticity.
If you live in Chicago or the adjacent Oak Park area and require quality stroke treatment, get in touch with Chicago Neurological Services, a Chicago neurologist clinic that offers some of the most effective treatments. At the helm of the clinic is Dr. Lenny Cohen, a reputed Chicago neurologist known for combining the best of alternative and traditional treatment methods for rehabilitating stroke patients.