Stroke is a common term for when there is a sudden weakness affecting one side of the body caused by an interruption to the blood flow to the brain. The flow of blood may be prevented from reaching the brain cells by a thrombosis, embolus or haemorrhage.
One of the most common risk factors in stroke patients is high blood pressure. If this is coupled with smoking your risk factor goes up. Raised cholesterol levels and any other disorder that can lead to damage to the blood vessels are also high risk factors. There is also a tendency to inherited conditions involving the circulatory system, so if a parent has had a stroke you are more at risk of developing one.
A Transient Ischaemic Attack or TIA is sometimes referred to as a mini stroke and is when there is a short episode, maybe seconds, when the flow is interrupted. Usually this may give rise to symptoms of dizziness or a feeling of fainting or even a short blackout, but recovery is normally quite quick however when these become a regular occurrence there is a substantial risk from injury if the person has a blackout and falls.
When nerve cells are starved of blood and oxygen for several minutes or more as in a stroke, this can lead to all kinds of problems depending on which part of the brain is affected. The most obvious are when there is a sudden loss of the use of an arm or leg or both affecting just one side. A feeling of tiredness or a headache may often precede this.
The muscles of the face can be affected giving the appearance of a droopy eye and/or mouth. There can be slurred speech, difficulty in swallowing, loss of sensation of some parts of the body leading to giddiness and balance problems. The eyesight can be affected, and in some instances the higher parts of the brain are affected such that there is an inability to recognise words and memory can be affected.
Personality changes are unfortunately common place, as the patient has to cope with the confusion caused by these sudden changes coupled with perhaps some memory loss. A brain scan can localise the extent and area of damage, and can confirm the type i.e. haemorrhage or clot. Sometimes a brain tumour can cause a stroke, but this is less common than a bleed or clot.
Treatment relies on knowing the cause of the stroke. If a clotting problem was involved then anti-clotting drugs can be administered. Low dose aspirin is a popular method of lessening the risks of clot formation. Cholesterol levels should be checked as well as blood pressure and treated accordingly.
Rehabilitation for limb and balance problems responds well to physiotherapy. Speech problems are best addressed by a speech therapist. Improvement can continue well after formal speech therapy has been terminated.
Research shows that patients having this support achieve a better lifestyle suggesting a better integration back into the community. Getting back to normal is the aim of all rehabilitation. Many people will find that they need help in coping with getting in and out of beds/chairs, using the bathroom etc. practical help can be sought through the Occupational therapist at the hospital.
Many of the disabled organisations produce brochures etc. that offer practical help in specially designed gadgets. For further information about strokes telephone the Stroke Association on 0207 566 0300 in the United Kingdom.
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