Stroke can be a major disabling incident. It affects annually over 15 million people worldwide. It can leave people unable to walk, talk and usually affects one side of the body, causing impaired movement and often paralysis. So what exactly is a stroke? A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of your brain is interrupted or severely reduced, depriving brain tissue of oxygen and nutrients. Within minutes, brain cells begin to die.
There are two main causes of stroke: a leaking or burst blood vessel, or blocked artery (blood clot). Once the cause has been identified treatment can begin. The first step is to rule out other possible causes of symptoms, such as a brain tumour or a reaction to drugs. After carrying out tests and identifying the type of stroke, treatment will focus either on stopping the bleeding or dissipating the blood clot; most times this can be achieved with medication. In severe cases surgery may be indicated. If the stroke is minor, known as a TIA (Transischaemic Attack), the symptoms may recover without any intervention.
Once the condition causing the stroke has been stabilised, the main focus is on improving strength and function. The brain is a remarkable organ and is capable of recovery and regeneration, and the sooner the process starts, the greater chance of recovery. Rehabilitation is a major part of treatment. Recovery largely depends on the part of the brain affected, how quickly treatment was received and the extent of the damage to the brain. In some cases recovery will never be as it was before but the aim is to improve function and regain independence.
What are the symptoms?
Problems with speaking and understanding, vision, balance, coordination and swallowing. You may experience confusion. You may slur your words or have difficulty understanding speech; paralysis, numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg. This is usually on one side of the body but can affect both. Headache, dizziness and unsteadiness.
What Are The Risk Factors?
As mentioned earlier, strokes can be caused by blood clots and there are certain factors that increase the risk of having a stroke (and a heart attack). So by modifying your lifestyle and certain behaviours you can reduce your risk:
Smoking: Smoking or exposure to second-hand smoke can increase your risk; the chemicals found in tobacco can damage your arteries.
High blood pressure: Check your blood pressure at least once a year, as most often there are no notable symptoms. If your blood pressure is high your doctor may prescribe medication to prevent damage to the arteries.
Being Overweight: Being overweight can increase your blood pressure, which is a leading cause of stroke. It can also put you at risk of developing other health problems linked to stroke, such as high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and heart disease.
High cholesterol: Again, have your cholesterol checked regularly. If detected, this can be treated either by changes to your diet or medication.
Diabetes: If you have diabetes it is important to follow a healthy diet and keep your blood sugar levels as close to normal as possible.
Alcohol: Monitoring your alcohol intake is important. You should drink no more than 14 units a week and these should be spread throughout the week, with at least two days each week where you do not have any alcohol at all.
How to Recover from a stroke
It is important to start your recovery early and the emphasis should be on moving correctly and not allowing compensation techniques. Regaining strength and balance are the first steps to getting back on your feet. Getting up and out of bed every day should be a priority and guidance from a physiotherapist can help you achieve your goals. Not everyone will achieve a full recovery but learning new ways to be independent can reduce the burden on family and friends.
Physiotherapy rehabilitation programmes often focus on:
• Activities of daily living such as bathing, dressing and eating
• Mobility skills, transferring between bed and chair/wheelchair, walking, wheelchair skills.
Despite taking measures to reduce the risk of suffering a stroke, it is a disease which can even affect the healthiest of people. All we can do is reduce our risks and ensure that if the worst should happen, our bodies are strong and
healthy enough to make the road to recovery an easier battle.
Kim Jackson is a UK-trained physiotherapist with over 20 years of experience. She specializes in musculoskeletal pain and dysfunctional, including back pain and sciatica, stroke and other neuro conditions, plus physiotherapy. She has worked with local, regional and international athletes and teams, treating injuries and analyzing biomechanics to improve function and performance.
Ms Jackson is registered with the Allied Health Council and is a member of PASL. She currently works at Bayside Therapy Services in Rodney Bay.