Each side of the brain is responsible for the function of the opposing side of the body. This is true from the head all the way down to the toes. The brain’s blood vessels as well are split into two. When one side of the blood vessel system in the brain hemorrhages or bleeds, the opposite side of the body will display irregular symptoms. Usually the whole side of the body is affected.
1. Who is at risk of suffering a stroke?
Strokes can happen to anyone, but those over the age of 45 years are particularly at risk. The risk is further increased among those who smoke, drink alcohol, have high blood pressure, have high blood fat levels, are obese, do not exercise regularly, are diabetic, suffer from peripheral arterial disease, have an irregular heartbeat or have a family history of cerebrovascular disease.
However, not everyone who has any of the aforementioned risk factors will suffer a stroke. Conversely, those who do experience cerebrovascular disease may only have any single one of those risk factors. Therefore, if people attend annual health checkups, any irregularities may be identified and treated appropriately, thus reducing the chances of developing cerebrovascular disease.
2. Symptoms of a stroke
The symptoms include sudden weakness in the arms and legs, a complete lack of function down one side of the body, problems with speech, issues with vision including partial or complete blindness, dizziness, problems with standing up straight and severe headaches. If such symptoms occur, the patient should be taken to hospital immediately.
3. High blood pressure increases the risk of a stroke, but this condition can be regulated.
People with high blood pressure are 2-5 times more likely to suffer a stroke than those with normal blood pressure. However, where blood pressure can be regulated to within normal levels, the chances of suffering a stroke can be reduced by around 30-40%. Blood pressure can be regulated with dietary changes, namely reducing fatty and salty foods, as well as exercising regularly, taking antihypertensive medication and making sure to keep doctor’s appointments.
4. If an elderly person has a fall, could this cause a stroke?
If an elderly person has a fall and their head hits the ground or another object with some force, this can potentially lead to a skull fracture and internal bleeding in the skull. However, falls themselves are not causes of strokes, partial paralysis or full paralysis. Conversely, though, strokes are potential causes for serious falls for the elderly population.
5. Does a stroke always lead to paralysis?
Some stroke sufferers experience paralysis only temporarily and recover within 24 hours. This type of stroke is called a transient ischemic attack (TIA). Those who suffer this type of stroke have every chance of making a full or near-full recovery after a course of medication and physical therapy, especially when this treatment is given as soon as possible after the stroke has occurred. However, recovery is entirely dependent on each individual patient’s brain condition and function, as well as their emotional and physical well-being.
6. Assessing the risk of developing cerebrovascular disease.
Up to 80 percent of strokes are preventable *, the risk can be reduced with the stroke screening. Aside from aforementioned risk factors, an assessment of stroke-risk levels can be carried out using a magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) scan, transcranial Doppler ultrasound scan and carotid duplex ultrasounds, or by evaluating heart function through an echocardiography (ECG).
7. The faster the treatment, the higher the chance of recovery
Studies have shown that patients who arrive at hospital quickly and receive recombinant tissue plasminogen activators or actilyse within the first 4 ½ hours after a stroke, have an approximately 30% higher chance of recovering to their pre-stroke health levels, or of being left with only minor disabilities, compared to those who do not receive treatment within this time frame and might suffer severe disabilities.
8. How long should a patient stay in hospital after suffering a stroke?
The length of the hospital stay depends on the severity of the stroke. In cases that are not too severe and when patients only suffer from speech issues alongside weakness in the arms and legs, it may only be necessary to stay in hospital for around 3-7 days. However, if the symptoms are severe and include the patient becoming drowsy, being unable to move the arms and legs, as well as being bedridden, then the length of the required hospital stay will have to be longer than 7 days. Patients with such severe symptoms are also at risk of developing complications while in hospital, such as pneumonia, urinary tract infection, bed sores and thrombosis in the legs. Such conditions will also prolong their stay in hospital.
9. Rehabilitation of the patient before they can return home.
Stroke victims often encounter problems with being independent, especially those who have had issues with one whole side of their body, which in turn can lead to problems holding or picking up objects, or it can impede their overall movement. Generally speaking, patients who have suffered a severe stroke will be required to undergo physical therapy while still in hospital to receive training on how to become independent again. Such therapy includes utilizing various walking aids, such as machines used to increase leg strength, Zimmer frames and numerous types of walking sticks. Before a patient can leave hospital, the doctors and physical therapy team will assess the patient’s readiness and train them physical therapy techniques that they can carry out alone at home or with the assistance of their caregiver. This will not only help to rehabilitate, but also reduce the risk of any accidents occurring at home.
10. Post-treatment care and advice
Both physical therapy carried out in hospital and the patient’s caregiver at home should encourage the patient to rehabilitate and help mitigate any potential causes of a stroke. Caregivers should also assist with medication and dietary needs, but most importantly they should continue with the physical therapy treatment at home and ensure that the patient attends all follow-up appointments with their doctor.
M.D., Faculty of Medicine Prince of Songkla University, 1987