What is a Stroke?
A stroke or cardiovascular accident is a type of cardiovascular condition that affects the blood vessels in charge of supplying blood to the brain. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel, which carries vital oxygen and nutrients to the brain, is either blocked by a clot or ruptures.
The blood flow is interrupted, depriving that particular area of the brain of oxygen. Every stroke is different, with signs and symptoms that vary according to the type of stroke, the part of the brain affected, and the size of the damaged area.
Differentiating Between the Types of Strokes
An ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke. It occurs when an artery or arteriole carrying blood to a part of the brain is obstructed. If this blood supply is blocked for a few minutes or more, lack of oxygen will cause that part of the brain to stop functioning properly and nerve cells can begin to die off. If blood flow is restored promptly the damage can be limited or even reversed.
A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures and bleeding into the surrounding tissue occurs. This type of stroke is usually severe and is less common, affecting approximately 10 percent of stroke sufferers. One of the major risk factors of a hemorrhagic stroke is high blood pressure (hypertension) which weakens the walls of the blood vessels which can then rupture under pressure.
There are two main subtypes of hemorrhagic stroke - subarachnoid hemorrhage and intracerebral hemorrhage. A subarachnoid hemorrhage occurs as a result of bleeding that takes place in the area around the brain.
This is usually due to an aneurysm, a weak spot within a blood vessel’s wall. An intracerebral hemorrhage is the more common form of hemorrhagic stroke and is associated with bleeding within the brain tissue itself.
Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)
Mini stroke is a term often used to describe a transient ischemic attack (TIA), often a warning of a possible impending stroke. A TIA is similar to an ischemic stroke because it results in the sudden loss of function of a particular part of the body which stems from the sudden lack of blood flow to that particular part of the brain.
However, the difference between a TIA and an ischemic stroke is that the TIA symptoms disappear quickly, usually within 24 hours. TIA’s are strong indicators that a person is at increased risk of a future stroke.
Diagnosing a Stroke
The diagnosis of a stroke is based on the physical symptoms of the patient as well as medical history. A physical and neurological examination will also be performed. Certain tests such as blood tests and imaging scans such as a CT scan will also be done to determine the area of the brain involved and the severity of the stroke.
What are the Symptoms of a Stroke?
The symptoms of a stroke may come on suddenly, during sleep or progress gradually and vary depending on which part of the brain is affected and the size of the area affected. Injury to one side of the brain usually affects the opposite side of the body.
Symptoms may also vary from patient to patient and include the following:
- Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg – particularly on one side of the body
- Trouble speaking or understanding
- Poor vision such as blurring, double vision, dimness or blindness in one or both eyes
- Difficulty walking or standing, dizziness, loss of balance or co-ordination
- A severe headache with no known cause
- Confusion and personality changes, problems with judgment
- Nausea or vomiting
- Drooling as a result of weakened facial muscles and difficulty swallowing
What Causes a Stroke?
As mentioned previously, a stroke occurs when a blood vessel carrying oxygen and nutrients to the brain becomes blocked by a blood clot or some other mass or when it ruptures. As a result part of the brain does not get sufficient oxygen and blood. The nerve cells in the affected area are unable to function and die almost immediately because they are deprived of oxygen. When the nerve cells cannot function, the parts of the body they control are also affected and cannot function correctly either.
The effects of a stroke can be devastating and the most common problems experienced are:
- Weakness or paralysis in the arms or legs
- Trouble swallowing
- Perceptual problems – changes to the way things are seen
- Sensory problems – changes to way things are felt
- Cognitive problems – problems experienced when thinking or remembering
- Trouble speaking, reading or writing
Help for Stroke Sufferers
Ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes are treated differently and it is essential they be treated by a physician. Treatment of an ischemic stroke involves removing the blockage and restoring blood flow to the brain. In hemorrhagic strokes, treatment consists of introducing a blockage to prevent further rupture and bleeding.
Medication such as clot-busters (e.g. aspirin) and blood-thinners (e.g. Warfarin) are prescribed. These drugs are very potent but can have harmful side effects.
Procedures such as a carotid endarterectomy (in which a blood vessel blockage is surgically removed from the carotid artery) may also be performed. Sometimes balloon angioplasty and implantable steel screens called "stents" are used to treat cardiovascular disease to relieve blockages and widen the arteries.
Holistic and natural treatments offer numerous effective methods to reduce your risk of stroke. Treatments involving herbal and homeopathic remedies are gentle and safe to use while at the same time addressing the underlying causes of the condition.
These remedies contain carefully selected herbs such as Crataegus oxyacantha (Hawthorn) well known for their cardiovascular properties and Passiflora incarnata which also relaxes blood vessels and reduces blood pressure.
In addition, Viburnum opulus (Guelder Rose bark) is a very effective cardiac tonic and muscle relaxant while Ginkgo biloba improves blood flow throughout the body.
Note: People with cardiovascular conditions should always consult their doctors before stopping or adding to their prescription drugs. Remember that it is important to source your natural medicines from a reputable company in order to ensure maximum safety and efficacy.