In 1989, stroke was the third leading cause of death in the United States. So with this in mind, President George H. W. Bush proclaimed May as “National Stroke Awareness Month” and since then, medical research advancements have made remarkable progress in the fight against stroke; however, it still remains the fifth leading cause of death in America today. By spreading information about this high-risk condition during May’s dedicated awareness month, we strive to further reduce the chances of stroke and improve treatment options.
What Is A Stroke?
If the blood supply to the brain becomes blocked or interrupted, the brain’s tissues don’t get the oxygen they need to survive, resulting in damaged or even dead tissue within minutes. “Stroke” is the common term for this type of brain injury, but it may also be referred to as a “brain attack.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are three main types of strokes.
- Ischemic Stroke: This can happen when an artery in the brain becomes blocked, usually by a blood clot or plaque buildup that prevents the brain from getting the oxygen it needs. Additionally, the CDC states that 87% of strokes are ischemic strokes.
- Hemorrhagic Stroke: Blood that leaks into the brain from a ruptured artery, head trauma or other injury can cause harmful pressure and tissue damage. This type of stroke is called a hemorrhagic stroke and accounts for approximately 13% of all cases, according to the American Stroke Association.
- Transient Ischemic Stroke: Commonly known as a “mini-stroke,” this type of stroke is a temporary condition that may last from a few minutes up to 24 hours. Because these mild events are warning signs that people often ignore, one-third of those who don’t receive treatment have a major stroke within one year.
Common Risk Factors For Stroke
Strokes can strike anyone at any age, but the chances of having a stroke increase with certain risk factors, most of which are preventable:
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease, including atrial fibrillation and other abnormal heart rhythms
- Diabetes and Obesity
- Lack of exercise
- Excessive alcohol use
- Smoking or other lung conditions (i.e. COPD)
- High blood cholesterol and lipids
Additionally, COVID can increase the risk of stroke in any age group, underscoring the importance of taking preventative measures against the virus. Men, people over age 55, African Americans and individuals who have experienced a prior stroke are also at higher risk.
Quality of life after a stroke depends on the severity of the stroke, how early it’s diagnosed and how quickly rehabilitation efforts can begin in the stroke’s aftermath. After a stroke, patients may experience ongoing complications, including:
- Continued transient ischemic strokes
- Tingling sensations or prickly feelings in their affected limbs
- Difficulty with bladder or bowel control
- Chronic discomfort in specific areas of the body
- Difficulty swallowing, speaking or processing language (i.e. Aphasia)
- An inability to follow and carry out the steps necessary to complete a task, known as apraxia
- Depression and anxiety caused by damage to the brain or the psychological trauma of the stroke
Recovery revolves around stroke rehabilitation, so the earlier treatment begins and the more repetitive the rehab regimen is, the more likely patients are to have relatively more positive outcomes. For this reason, rehabilitation efforts usually begin while the patient is still in the hospital.
Types Of Treatment For Stroke
Because therapy for post-stroke symptoms is an individualized process, a stroke therapy team usually works to bring together some of the most frequently employed types of rehabilitation and treatments in order to address the specific needs of the patient.
Speech and language pathologists can help stroke survivors regain their ability to communicate through techniques such as breathing or cadence exercises as well as improve swallowing abilities with dietary modifications, tongue strengthening and body positioning.
Damaged areas of the brain cannot regenerate lost cells, but a physical therapist can help with strength, mobility and range-of-motion exercises to improve the function of impaired limbs as well as help the remaining healthy cells reorganize to compensate for lost capabilities.
An occupational therapist can help stroke victims focus on restoring the ability to perform daily activities as well as regain any lost skills such as cooking, attending to personal hygiene, driving or even household chores.
Neurological therapists help stroke patients improve their cognitive and motor impairments by employing advanced tools to help patients achieve their rehab goals. In recent years, some of the more modern innovations include:
- Weight-supported ambulation systems, such as treadmills and robotic exoskeletons that mimic normal movements
- Wearable biofeedback units and electrical stimulation devices that help patients regain gait patterns
Why Technology Matters For Stroke Awareness
Here at Raintree, we acknowledge the vital role therapy and rehab plays in helping people with stroke recovery. By providing therapists with a flexible, all-encompassing platform, it’s now easier than ever for providers to focus on delivering quality care to patients, every step of their journey.
As we offer our support during National Stroke Awareness Month, join us in advocating for:
- ongoing public attention to the common symptoms and treatments of stroke
- funding for stroke research and non-profit organizations that empower access to care
- support for physical therapists, occupational therapists and speech language pathologists
- improved circulation of patient education and rehabilitation resources
For more information on how you can spread awareness, visit the CDC’s website for their Stroke Communications Toolkit, a digital guide designed to create a virtual support community that can help bridge the gap between technology and human healthcare.