The medical term for a stroke is cerebrovascular disease. A stroke is caused by lack of blood flow to the brain. There are actually many different types of strokes, depending on what part of the brain is cut off from blood flow. All, however, involve the loss of function related to whatever brain tissue was severed by the stoppage.

Strokes can occur suddenly and severely over the space of a few minutes, or progress gradually over several hours. An estimated 10 to 30 percent of all stroke victims first experience a ministroke, which has much milder symptoms than a regular stroke, usually lasts less than five minutes, and does not cause brain damage. Also known as transient strokes, these typically occur hours, days, weeks, or months before a regular stroke.

Each year, an estimated 300,000 Americans suffer a stroke. One-quarter of this number die; the rest are left with mild to severe disabilities, including brain damage, paralysis of one or both sides of the face, paralysis of one or both sides of the body, loss of speech, memory loss, impaired reasoning, and diminished sight. Disabilities correspond to the part of the brain that was damaged. Stroke victims face a multitude of physical discomforts and challenges. Because of the loss of function, many become dependent on family members and/or private nurses, making the disease especially dreaded. The prognosis is better in younger patients because their brains are more adaptable.

The greatest risk factor for stroke is age. In fact, your chance of having a stroke doubles each decade after the age of 35. Additional risk factors include high blood pressure (70 percent of all strokes in this country occur in individuals with high blood pressure), heart conditions (in those with heart conditions, blood clots from the heart are more likely to travel up the major arteries to the brain, where they get stuck), a family history of strokes, and being of African descent. Smoking, high blood cholesterol, and diabetes also are thought to be contributing factors.

Signs and Symptoms

  • Acute onset of one or more of the following: slurred speech, dizziness, double vision, loss of coordination, or difficulty swallowing
  • Sudden weakness or loss of sensation in one leg or an arm and leg (generally on the same side of the body)
  • Rapid onset of extremely severe headache
  • Decline in vision, speech, or sensation over a period of minutes or hours
  • Abrupt loss of consciousness (emergency symptom)
  • Sudden onset of partial or complete paralysis of leg, arm, and/or face (emergency symptom)

Conventional Medical Treatment

A stroke is an emergency condition. Should you or anyone you know develop any of the preceding symptoms, go straight to the nearest hospital emergency room. Diagnosis may be based upon symptoms and patient history, or may involve an MRI or CAT scan of the brain to see whether there is any leakage or any "backed-up" blood in the brain. Treatment may include immedIate administration of the drug t-PA (tissue-plasminogen activator). This drug can help prevent brain damage or death by dissolving the blood clots that cause most strokes. Patients receiving t-PA within three hours of the onset of symptoms are 30 percent more likely to make a complete or near complete recovery.

Overall treatment varies widely, depending on what risk factors have contributed to the stroke and what area of the brain is affected. Typical treatment includes intensive care and a combination of life support and intravenous feeding. Also, depending on what function has been lost, a stroke victim may require some type of long-term physical therapy and/or nursing care. To prevent a second stroke, you may be given a prescription for an anti-clotting drug, such as warfarin (Coumadin), or told to take one aspirin every day.

Complementary and Alternative Treatments

Nutrition and Supplementation

As is always the case, prevention is easier than cure. Eat high-fiber foods that are low in fat and cholesterol. Meals should be planned around fruits, vegetables, and grains. Eat dark-green, leafy vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, soybeans, wheat germ, and whole grains to get a healthy supply of vitamin E (which improves circulation).

Foods to avoid include candies, chips, fried foods, gravies, junk food, pies, processed foods, red meat, and saturated fats. Also stay away from stimulants such as coffee, colas, tobacco, and alcohol. Drink plenty of pure water.

These are good daily supplements for you to take:

Most Important

  • calcium (1500 mg)-maintains proper muscle tone in the blood vessels
  • magnesium (750 mg)-balances the calcium
  • vitamin D (400 mg)-aids calcium uptake
  • coenzyme (100 mg)-improves tissue oxygenation
  • flaxseed oil (as directed on label)-reduces blood pressure; lowers cholesterol levels; maintains proper elasticity of blood vessels
  • vitamin E (start with 200 IU and increase by 200 IU each week until you reach 1000 IU daily)-helps to block the first steps leading to the disease
  • selenium (200 mcg)-promotes the action of vitamin E
  • vitamin B complex, containing vitamins B6 (50 mg), B12 (600 mcg), and folate (200 mcg)

Also Recommended

  • germanium (200 mg)-lowers cholesterol and improves cellular oxygenation
  • L-methionine (500 mg, on empty stomach) helps prevent fatty buildup in the arteries
  • zinc (50 mg; do not exceed a total of 100 mg from all supplements)-aids in the healing process
  • copper (3 mg)-balances with zinc

(Consult your healthcare provider regarding the duration of treatment.)

Bodywork and Somatic Practices

Stroke patients have responded well to Feldenkrais and CranioSacral Therapy. Other methods to try would be Aston Patterning, massage, Trager, Oriental bodywork, and polarity therapy.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Acupuncture Acupuncture can be used to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, as well as improve the flow of blood through the arteries in order to prevent a stroke. It also may be helpful in unblocking energy pathways following a stroke, which can hasten the patient's recovery and help prevent paralysis.

Acupressure Acupressure may prevent a stroke by rejuvenating blood flow through clogged arteries. It also helps stimulate muscles that may have been weakened by a stroke and increase energy and stamina in patients with impaired immune systems.

Chinese Herbal Therapy Chinese medicine views a stroke as an internal damp-wind condition that impairs brain and circulatory functioning, and herbs are typically prescribed to remedy this underlying disorder as well.

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