A stroke occurs when there is a loss of blood flow to the part of the brain. Your brain cells cannot get the oxygen and nutrients they need from blood, and they begin to die within a few minutes. This may cause lasting brain damage, long-term disability, or even death.
Within a stroke progression, there are a total of 4 types of strokes that most patients develop from, as described below:
Types of Stroke
During an ischemic stroke, the arteries supplying blood to the brain narrow or become blocked. These blockages are caused by blood clots or blood flow that is severely reduced. They can also be caused by pieces of plaque due to atherosclerosis breaking off and blocking a blood vessel. The two most common types of ischemic strokes are thrombotic and embolic. A thrombotic stroke happens when a blood clot forms in one of the arteries supplying blood to the brain. The clot passes through the bloodstream and becomes lodged, which blocks blood flow. An embolic stroke is when a blood clot or other debris forms in another part of the body and then travels to the brain.
An embolic stroke is one of two types of ischemic stroke. It occurs when a blood clot forms in another part of the body (often the heart or arteries in the upper chest and neck) and moves through the bloodstream to the brain. The clot gets stuck in the brain’s arteries, where it stops the flow of blood and causes a stroke. An embolic stroke may also be the result of a heart condition. Atrial fibrillation, a common type of irregular heartbeat, can cause blood clots to develop in the heart. These clots may dislodge and travel through the bloodstream and into the brain.
A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when an artery in the brain breaks open or leaks blood. The blood from that artery creates excess pressure in the skull and swells the brain, damaging brain cells, and tissues. In addition, the two types of hemorrhagic strokes are intracerebral and subarachnoid. An intracerebral hemorrhagic stroke, the most common type of hemorrhagic stroke, happens when the tissues surrounding the brain fill with blood after an artery bursts. Subarachnoid stroke is less common. It causes bleeding in the area between the brain and the tissues that cover it.
Transient ischemic attack
A transient ischemic attack (TIA) occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked temporarily. Symptoms which are similar to those of an entire stroke, are usually caused by a blood clot.
Causes & Symptoms
Some causes linked to the development of a stroke include:
Smoking or chewing tobacco raises your risk of experiencing a stroke. Nicotine makes your blood pressure rise up. Cigarette smoke causes a fatty buildup in your main neck artery. It also thickens your blood and makes it more likely to clot. Even secondhand smoke can affect you.
This condition includes defective heart values as well as atrial fibrillation, or irregular heartbeat, which causes a quarter of all strokes among the very elderly. You can also have clogged arteries from fatty deposits.
Patients who have diabetes often have high blood pressure and are more prone to be overweight. Therefore, both raise the chance of a stroke. Diabetes damages your blood vessels, which makes a stroke more likely. If you have a stroke when your blood sugar levels are high, the injury to your brain is also high.
Some medicines can raise your chances of a stroke. For instance, blood-thinning drugs, which doctors suggest to prevent blood clots, can sometimes make a stroke more likely through bleeding. Some studies have linked hormone therapy, used for menopause symptoms like hot flashes, with a higher risk of strokes.
Signs and symptoms of a stroke in both men and women include:
- Sudden weakness or numbness on one side of your face or in one arm or leg.
- Loss of vision, strength, coordination, sensation, or speech, or trouble understanding speech.
- Sudden dim vision, especially in one eye.
- Sudden loss of balance, sometimes along with vomiting, nausea, fever, hiccups, or trouble swallowing.
- Dizziness or sudden falls.
- Severe headache with no reasonable cause.
Who has a Stroke?
Certain risk factors make you more susceptible to stroke. The more risk factors you have, the more likely you are to have a stroke. Risk factors for a stroke include:
- Diet – An unhealthy diet that increases your risk of a stroke is one that is high in salt, saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, inactivity, and/or lack of exercise. These can all increase the chances of experiencing a stroke.
- Family history – Stroke is higher in some families because of genetic health issues, such as high blood pressure.
- Gender – While both women and men can have strokes, they’re more common in women than in men in all age groups.
- Age – Strokes are more common in elders ages 50 and older. Therefore, the older you are, the more likely you are to have a stroke.
- Excess alcohol consumption – Your risk for stroke also increases if you drink too much alcohol. Alcohol consumption should be done in moderation. This means that no more than one drink per day for women, and no more than two for men. More than two alcohol beverage consumption may raise blood pressure levels as well as triglyceride levels, which can cause atherosclerosis.
Certain medical conditions are linked to stroke risk, such as the following:
- Previous stroke or TIA
- High cholesterol
- Heart valve defects
- Sickle cell disease
- Enlarged heart chambers and irregular heartbeats
How does it affect you? How serious is it?
You may experience one or more of these common complications after you experience a stroke, such as the following below:
Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)
When you are in the hospital or immobile for an extended period of time, you are at risk of developing a blood clot. Depending on what caused a stroke, you may have a greater risk of blood clots. DVT itself is not life-threatening, but a clot may break free and travel through the bloodstream. If it lodges in the blood vessels of the lungs, this causes a life-threatening condition. Symptoms of DVT include swelling in a leg or arm, sometimes with accompanying pain, redness, and warm skin.
Depression / mood changes
After a stroke, you may have memory lapses, difficulty sleeping, and you may also struggle to resume enjoyable activities alone or with your family and friends. These factors all may contribute to feelings of sadness, worthlessness, and lack of energy. You may also experience irritability, apathy, and uncontrolled expressions of emotions.
Damage to parts of the brain responsible for language may cause aphasia. This impairs the expression and understanding of language as well as reading and writing. Aphasia may occur along with other speech disorders.
You may develop muscle tightness and pain in your leg or arm muscles soon after your stroke or months later. A physiotherapist likely will recommend stretching and other exercises including splinting or bracing.
This complication is more common in those who have had a hemorrhagic stroke, as blood from the hemorrhage may irritate the brain.
Recommended Treatment & Rehabilitation
Your doctor will begin by asking you or a close relative about your symptoms and what you were doing when they worsened. They will take your medical history to find out your stroke risk factors. Afterward, he/she will ask what medications you currently take, check your blood pressure, and listen to your heart.
You may go through various tests to further help your doctor determine if you’ve had a stroke or to rule out other conditions. These imaging tests include the following:
- MRI / CT scan – You may undergo either or both a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan and a computerized tomography (CT) scan. The MRI will help see if any brain tissue or brain cells have been damaged. A CT scan will provide a detailed and clear picture of your brain that shows any bleeding or damage in the brain. IT may also show other brain conditions that could be causing your symptoms.
- Carotid ultrasound – A carotid ultrasound can show fatty deposits in your carotid arteries, which supply the blood to your face, neck, and brain. It can also show whether your carotid arteries have been narrowed or blocked.
- Echocardiogram – An echocardiogram can find sources of clots in your heart. These clots may have traveled to your brain and caused a stroke.
A physiotherapist will design an exercise and strengthening program based on tasks that you will need to do on a daily basis. Your physiotherapist will select the best treatment for your specific needs from a variety of available options, such as the following:
- Functional training – This type of training allows a patient to practice tasks and functional activities they do in real-life situations. This can include activities such as getting up from a chair, walking, and climbing stairs.
- Strength training – Strength training can include traditional strength training that uses weights or a functional strength-training approach. Functional strength training involves practicing everyday tasks.
- Positioning – Proper positioning helps reduce any muscle pain, spasms, slowness, or stiffness resulting from a stroke. Your physiotherapist will then teach you how to safely move from a sitting to a standing position. They will also show you how to properly support yourself when sitting or lying down, using foam wedges, slings, and other aids.
- Balance training – Physiotherapists use different training methods to help improve balance and walking. Balance training involves practicing activities that challenge balance.
- Body weight support – Body weight support is used to carry some of your weight and help support you as you walk, normally on a treadmill. Your physiotherapist will gradually decrease the amount of support as your posture, strength, balance, and coordination improve.
Alternative & Homeopathic Treatment
Most natural remedies for stroke recovery offer a gentle way to heal the body and boost your results from therapy. Alternative treatments often appeal to patients that prefer to avoid the unwanted side effects of medication. Here are some homeopathic treatments you can try at home:
- Brain-boosting natural foods – There is a special type of protein that may help stroke recovery called brain-derived neuropathic factor (BDNF). This protein helps with neuroplasticity by supporting the growth of new neurons and synapses in the brain.
- Passive range-of-motion exercises – Stroke patients with paralysis might be able to slowly improve mobility with consistent rehab exercise involving having a caregiver move the affected body parts. These exercises are also beneficial for patients with severe spasticity.
- Acupuncture – Studies have shown that acupuncture helps improve mobility after stroke, especially if electrical stimulation is applied.
- Massage – Massages can help increase blood flow to an affected area, especially for stroke-related muscle problems. Additionally, massages can strongly decrease pain, increase your health overall, and improve movement after stroke.