Stroke Symptoms and Treatment

Strokes are the third major cause of death in after heart disease and cancer. The risk of developing a stroke is higher in those who smoke, have high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels in their blood, are diabetic, and drink alcohol to excess.

Doctors technically refer to a stroke as a cerebrovascular accident (CVA). This translates as an accident involving the blood vessels in the brain. If a clot, or piece of material from elsewhere in the body blocks an artery in the brain, or if an artery burst in the brain, a stroke may occur.

Because any blood vessel in the brain can be involved, almost any part of the brain may be damaged, and the area damaged determines the adverse effects in the normal operation of that person's body.

The symptoms of a stroke can therefore be many and varied.

If a motor area of the brain which controls movement is affected, the patient becomes paralyzed down the opposite side of the body. This occurs because the nerves supplying the body cross over to the opposite side at the base of the brain. Thus the right side of the brain controls the left arm and leg. Other victims may lose their memory or power of speech, or may become uncoordinated, unbalanced, start fitting or any of several dozen other possibilities.

Both the ambulance and the family doctor should be called when someone suffers a stroke. The doctor will be able to stabilize the patient for the trip to hospital where investigations will begin. The doctor can also answer the many questions which the family will certainly ask and can help them cope with a very stressful situation.

Doctors can often work out which part of the brain is involved by analyzing the patient's complaints. More information about the stroke can be obtained with special X-rays, CT scans and magnetic resonance imaging, blood tests, tests on the fluid around the brain, and measuring the brain waves electrically. Using these techniques, a specialist physician can determine the precise cause of the stroke and commence the appropriate treatment.

Surgery to the bleeding or blocked artery in the brain may be necessary in some cases, particularly if the stroke and resultant brain damage worsen.

When it comes to treatment, a wait-and-watch attitude is adopted in most cases, with medication given to protect the patient from any further damage to other vital organs.

The brain unfortunately does not repair itself, but it can often find different ways of doing a task and bypassing the damaged areas. This is where paramedical therapists are vital to the person's eventual recovery. Physiotherapists, speech pathologists and occupational therapists will start treating the victim as soon as possible after arrival in hospital.

The biggest changes are usually noted in the first week. The patient may recover completely and have no residual disability. Some impairment is all too often left behind, and occasionally a steady deterioration may lead to death or a permanent semi-comatose state. Those patients who become unconscious during a stroke generally have a poorer outcome than those who do not.

Recovery may take months, and attendance at therapy clinics and constant encouragement from family and friends during this stage is essential to maintain the patient's optimism and self esteem. Nothing is worse for a person than to be fully intelligent and aware of what is happening, but to look a fool because he is drooling, unable to speak, and uncoordinated. Stroke victims with these problems become extremely depressed because they are treated as idiots and everyone speaks to them in baby talk.

If a relative has a stroke, it will be several days or even weeks before doctors will be able to give you an accurate idea as to the final outcome. Keep in contact with your doctor and the specialists involved during this time so that appropriate advice about the patient's rehabilitation can be given.

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