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Stroke – Causes, Symptoms, the Risk Factors, Types, Prevention and Treatment
Besides cancer and heart diseases, stroke is the third leading cause of death. Approximate 1/4 of all stroke victims die as a direct result of the stroke or it’s complications. Stroke is caused by uncontrolled diet that is high in saturated and trans fats resulting in cholesterol build up in the arteries and high blood pressure. In other words, if cholesterol building up in the arteries is blocking the circulation of blood in any part of the body causing oxygen not to be delivered to the brain, resulting in some cells in the brain to die off and are unable reproduce, then we have stroke. Other strokes happen when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures causing the cells in your brain to be deprived of oxygen in your blood, they die and never come back.
I. Causes of Stroke
There are similar causes of stroke and heart diseases, but in stroke the result is more severe. Any delay of rescuing will result in death of the victim. Here are some causes of stroke:
1. Unhealthy diet
A diet high in saturated and trans fats causes bad cholesterol to build up in your blood vessels in the brain, blocking oxygen needed for the cells thus increasing the risk of stroke. Also unhealthy diet causes high blood pressure making your heart work harder to pump blood to your body in result of heart diseases. High blood pressure also causes the blood vessels in your brain to harden and thin, increasing the risk of stroke.
Smoking not only has a devastating effect on the health of the smoker but also to anyone that inhales its toxic fumes. Cigarettes contain high levels of cadmium that causes the blood to clot activity of cells in result of blocking blood flow and damaging the blood vessels in the brain.
3. Excessive drinking
Moderate drinking is good for your heart, but excessive drinking can raise levels of some fats in your blood causing cholesterol to build up in the arteries and blood vessels in the brain resulting in increase of the risk of stroke.
People with diabetes tend to develop heart disease or have strokes at an earlier age than other people. Diabetes with unhealthy diet causes high blood glucose levels that damage nerves and blood vessels, leading to complications such as heart disease and stroke, the leading causes of death among people with diabetes.
5. Obesity – a body mass index of 30 or higher
Study shows that even after adjusting for other stroke risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, smoking, cardiac diseases, moderate alcohol consumption, and physical activity; obesity is still associated with a greatest risk of stroke in men and women.
6. Use of birth control pills
Birth control pills contain estrogen and one of two other hormones, lynestrenol or norethisterone that increase the risk of blood clotting, which can lead to ischemic stroke especially in woman who smoke and who are older than 35.
There are many other causes of stroke such as heart diseases that we have discussed lengthily in the heart diseases articles.
II. Symptoms of Stroke
Here are some symptoms of strokes:
1. Sudden trouble in standing
Sudden trouble in standing is an early symptom of stroke as a result of circulation of blood that carries oxygen to suddenly deplete caused by narrowing of arteries and high blood pressure.
2. Dizziness and loss of balance
The brain coordinates information from the eyes, the inner ear, and the body’s sense to maintain balance. If the cells of that part of the brain get damaged in result of depleted oxygen will cause dizziness and loss of balance.
3. Sudden confusion
A sudden onset of confusion means that something is potentially going wrong with the brain. Almost all conditions that affect the brain are life-threatening. It might be caused by a tumor or low levels of oxygen in the cells of the cerebral cortex in your brain that affect your ability to think with your usual speed or clarity. It might also be caused by lowered blood sugar, as is the case of diabetes.
4. Having trouble speaking and understanding
Having trouble speaking and understanding occurs when the brain cells in the area of the broca, wernicke and angular ayrus in the left hemisphere area begin to die because they stop getting the oxygen and nutrients they need to function.
6. Sudden severe headaches
Headache is a condition of pain in the head, sometimes neck or upper back pain may also be interpreted as a headache. It ranks amongst the most common local pain complaints and may be frequent for many people but sudden severe headaches may be caused by an early symptom of heart disease as we mentioned in previous articles, by rupturing a brain vessel or depletion of oxygen in some parts of the brain.
7. Sudden trouble seeing
This may be an early indication of stroke when the oxygen in the blood supply to the part of the brain is suddenly interrupted or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, spilling blood into cells that control the vision area of the cerebral cortex in the brain.
III. The Risk Factors
Human aging is the biological process that is unavoidable but controllable. Starting at age 40, the cells in our body begin this process causing the deterioration of some functions of our body. Most people of this age group already have some form of cholesterol building up in their arteries and high blood pressure resulting in an increased risk of stroke.
People with a family history of stroke have a greater chance of stroke than those do not have such a family history.
Because of frequent high blood pressure in African Americans, they have a significantly higher risk of stroke than their Caucasian counterparts.
4. High blood pressure
High blood pressure causes hardening and thinning of arterial walls and makes our heart work harder to pump blood throughout our body resulting in heart diseases as well as increasing the risk of stroke.
Smokers may be exposed to toxic cadmium, causing high blood pressure and heart diseases as well as contributing to a higher risk of stroke.
6. Excessive alcohol consumption
Drinking one cup of wine for women and 2 cups of wine for men might help to increase the circulation of blood as well as providing more oxygen for cells. However, excessive drinking not only damages the normal function of liver but also raises high blood pressure, increasing the risk of stroke.
Diabetes with unhealthy diet causes high levels of glucose in the bloodstream. Diabetics have a greater risk of stroke, because high levels of glucose damage the arterial wall as well as clotting the arteries and blood vessels.
Males have a 20% greater risk of stroke than females.
IV. Types of Strokes
There are 2 types of strokes:
1. Ischemic stroke caused by a clot or other blockage within an artery leading to the brain.
2. Hemorrhagic stroke caused by the vessel in the brain rupturing in result of blood leaking into the brain.
1. Ischemic stroke
This is the most common type of stroke accounting for almost 80% of all strokes. The brain depends on its arteries to bring fresh blood from the heart and lungs. The blood carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain, and takes away carbon dioxide and cellular waste. If an artery is blocked then the brain cells may not receive enough oxygen. They then cannot make enough energy and will eventually stop working.
There are 2 types of Ischemic stroke
If blood clots from the inside of the arteries of the brain, we have thrombic stroke.
Study shows that this type of stroke is responsible for almost 50% of all strokes. The most common problem is narrowing off the arteries in the neck or head. Thrombotic stroke are also sometimes referred to as large-artery strokes. The process leading to thrombotic stroke is complex and occurs over time. Thrombotic stroke might be caused by the arterial walls slowly thickening and hardening as a result of arteries being injured. Such injures signal the immune system to release white blood cells to the site causing stroke. Thrombotic stroke also occurs when the inner wall of arteries were injured in result of less nitric oxide being produced, causing the hardening of the arteries. If the blood clot then blocks the already narrowed artery and shuts off oxygen to part of the brain, we have a thrombotic stroke.
b) Embolic stroke
If blood clotted in other parts of the body’s arteries subsequently entering the brain, we have embolic stroke. In this case the clot was formed somewhere other than in the brain itself.
The clot then travels the bloodstream until they become lodged and can not travel any further. This naturally restricts the flow of blood to the brain and results in embolic stroke. An embolic stroke occurs when a blood clot or other particle forms in a blood vessel away from your brain. It is usually caused by a dislodged blood clot that has traveled through the blood vessels until it becomes wedged in an artery. It is also caused by irregular beating in the heart’s two upper chambers. This abnormal heart rhythm can lead to poor blood flow and the formation of a blood clot.
2. Hemorrhagic stroke
Hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel bursts inside the brain, causing an increase of the fluid pressure on the brain and harms the brain by pressing it against the skull. Hemorrhagic stroke is associated with high blood pressure, which stresses the arterial walls until they break.
There are 2 types of hemorrhagic strokes:
a) Intracerebral hemorrhage:
Intracerebral hemorrhage is internal bleeding that can happen in any part of the brain. Blood may accumulate in the brain tissues itself, or in the space between the brain and the membranes covering it. Most commonly the problem arises in the small arterial inside the brain which have been diseased causing these tiny blood vessels to start to leak. Since the actual source of the bleeding is often small, it can take time for the blood to build up resulting in symptoms of an intracerebral hemorrhage and often increases over minutes or hours. People may not notice the problems associated with bleeding into the brain and ischemic strokes.
b) Subarachnoid hemorrhage
Hemorrhagic strokes that cause bleeding into the fluid filled spaces located deep in the brain are called subarachnoid hemorrhage. Subarachnoid hemorrhage may occur at any age but is most common from age 40 to 65. It is caused by the presence of blood within the subarachnoid space from some pathological processes a result of ruptured aneurysms and bleeding may stop spontaneously. Other causes include vascular malformation, tumors and infection.The most effective treatment is to proceed with microsurgical clipping of the lesion. This stroke causes paralysis of all limbs, unconsciousness and bleeding into the cerebellum produceing typical signs of in coordination with headache and stiffness of the neck.
V. Prevention and Treatment
A. With Foods
1. Cold water fish
Cold water fish such as salmon and tuna contains high amounts of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids that can help to reduce the cholesterol clotting up in the arteries and blood vessels in the brain in result of lowering blood pressure and the risk of stroke.
Almonds contain high amounts of vitamin E and other minerals that can help to reduce the levels of bad cholesterol and maintain healthy blood flow in the body.
Blueberries contain the highest antioxidant capacity because of their large anthocyanin concentration that helps to prevent heart disease and stroke by reducing the build up of bad cholesterol LDL.
Apples are loaded with brain-protecting quercetin. It also contains high amounts of antioxidants and chemicals that help to protect cells throughout the body, particularly the brain and the heart.
Phytochemicals in apricots can help to protect the heart and eye as well prevent stroke. The beta carotene as we mentioned in a previous article can help to lower the level of bad cholesterol in the arteries, thus reducing the risk of heart diseases and stroke.
7. Kiwi Fruit
Kiwi fruit contains high amounts of vitamin C, potassium, magnesium and antioxidants that are good for the heart and immune system as well as preventing stroke.
8. Rice bran
Rice bran contains high amounts of omega 3 and 6 fatty acids and nutritional dietary fiber that help to lower levels of cholesterol in the arteries and reduce the risk of stroke and heart diseases.
9. Oat bran
Oat bran is high in beta glucans that has proven effective in lowering the LDL as well as reducing the risk of stoke
B. With Nutritional Supplements
Three B-vitamins: folate, B-6, and B-12 can lower homocysteine, an amino acid that is found naturally in the body and study shows that the higher the level of homocysteine in the blood, the higher the risk of stroke.
Beta-carotene is an antioxidant that may reduce oxidative stress to brain cells. Such stress occurs when highly volatile forms of oxygen damage cell structure. Study shows that beta- carotene helps to reduce the risk against cerebral infraction and stroke.
3. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is an antioxidant that helps to reduce arterial clotting.
Selenium is a powerful agent that helps to keep tissues and arteries elastic. It also helps to reduce the stickiness of the blood and decreases the risk of clotting, in turn lowering the risk of heart attack and stroke. Selenium increases the ratio of HDL (good) cholesterol to LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Pycnogenol helps to keep collagen elastic and soften the blood platelets, making blood flow more efficiently.
6. Co enzyme Q-10
Co enzyme is a strong antioxidant that not only protects low density lipoprotein LDL against oxidants, but also helps for getting oxygen to the cells.
Lecithin is a fat-like substance called a phospholipid that helps to remove bad cholesterol and other lipids from the body. It also protects the arteries and organs from the build up of fatty tissue that can lead to stroke or heart attack.
Melatonin is a neurohormone produced in our body by the pineal gland. It is a powerful antioxidant that easily penetrates the blood-brain barrier and is used to treat thrombotic stroke.
9. Vitamin C
Vitamin C helps to strengthen the arterial wall, lowering the risk of heart diseases and stroke.
C. With Herbs
The herb is extracted from the leaves of the ginkgo biloba tree and was first used medicinally in China more than 4,000 years ago. Ginkgo biloba has the ability to increase the oxygen content to the brain and other bodily tissues, improving circulation of blood and improving cerebral tolerance to hypoxia. Study shows that taking Ginkgo and other blood thinner medications together may increase the risk of heart diseases and stroke. Be sure to consult with your doctor before taking ginkgo biloba.
Hawthorn contains cardiotonic amines, polyphenols, and is a source of Vitamins C, B, and many other nutrients that help in relaxing and dilating arteries, increasing the flow of blood and oxygen to and from the heart and maintaining healthy blood pressure resulting in lowered risk of stroke.
Garlic contains high amounts of antioxidants and elements that help to improve blood circulation. It is dangerous to take garlic extract together with blood thinner medications as we mentioned in a previous article.
Cayenne contains an active ingredient called capsaicin that has the abilities to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels as well as preventing heart diseases and stroke.
Blueberries are one of the richest food sources of natural antioxidants readily available, having more than twice the levels of other berries that helps to prevent heart disease, stroke and internal bleeding.
Pigweed is an excellent plant-source of calcium. It helps lower one-third of the risk of succumbing to heart attack. Personally, I believe these results also apply to ischemic strokes, because they are biologically so similar to heart attack.
7. Willow bark
Willow bark has been shown in several studies to reduce the risk of ischemic stroke by about 18 percent. Study shows that willow bark has the aspirin’s ability to prevent heart attacks, and also shows a slight increase in risk of hemorrhagic stroke from taking willow bark daily but the increase was small and not statistically significant.
This is another herb proven to have anti-clotting abilities and has the same function as garlic.
D. With Chinese Acupuncture and Herbs
Acupuncture is the most popular treatment modality for stroke patients in China, used effectively on 85% of the stroke patients there. The recently acceptance of acupuncture by western medical practitioners allows one more effective method in curing diseases especially stroke. Study shows that acupuncture helps to facilitate nerve regeneration, decrease blood viscosity, as well as helping surviving nerve cells find new pathways, effectively bypassing damaged parts of the brain resulting in decreased risk of stroke.
2. Ginkgo biloba (bai guo ye).
Ginkgo biloba improves mental functioning as well as preventing blood cells from forming blood clots in the brain. Study shows that ginkgo improves blood circulation and lowers plasma cholesterol concentrations that help to lower the risk of stroke.
Gastrodia was listed in the ancient Shennong Bencao Jing (ca. 100 A.D.) and was later classified by Tao Hong as a superior herb, meaning that it could be taken for a long time to protect health and prolong life, as well as for treating illnesses. Gastrodia is used by Chinese herbalist in treating stroke and chronic weaknesses of Qi that eventually blocks the flow of blood to the brain.
4. Cinnamon bark
True Cinnamon is one form of the common spice. As we discussed before, cinnamon helps to lower blood sugar by mimicking insulin, activating insulin receptors and working with insulin in the cells to reduce blood sugar by up to 20%. Also cinnamon has some antioxidant benefits that helps to find new pathways for surviving nerve cells after stroke.
Angelica can help to warm up the chest-yang to remove obstruction of blood flow in the heart vessels as well as brain vessels.
6. Dragon’s Blood
Dragon’s Blood is used for increased power, purification, protection, consecration, and the development of strong ritual energy. It also helps to relieve pain in the heart due to blood stagnation and stimulate blood circulation to the brain resulting in decreased risk of stroke.
There are many other Chinese herbs that can help to prevent and treat stroke such as ginger root, mantis egg case, and tortoise plastron. Please consult with your doctor before taking any Chinese herb because some of these herbs may have side effects.
E. With Common Sense Approaches
1. A healthy Diet
Uncontrolled diet that is high in saturated fat and trans fat results in cholesterol building up in the arteries and blood vessels obstructing the flow of blood and damaging brain cells because of lack of oxygen causing stroke. If we can consume less of processed foods, fatty animal meats and avoid artificial chemicals and consume more healthy vegetables and fruits, we can reduce the risk of stroke.
2. Put on a happy face
Study shows that people with depression have an increased risk of stroke. Experts also found that people with elevated levels of depression will increase the risk of stroke by 73%.
Regular moderate exercise will help to improve circulation of blood flow and lessen the risk of stroke that is caused by clogged blood vessels by 30% because regular walking helps to lower high blood pressure and increase levels of HDL.
4. Quit Smoking
Cigarettes contain toxic chemicals cadmium together with heavy metals that cause blood clotting in the arteries resulting in increased high blood pressure and risk of heart diseases as well as stroke.
5. Reduce intake of alcohol
Excessive drinking increases high blood pressure, thus increasing the likelihood of stroke.
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