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Consumer Information: Stroke

What is a Stroke

Like a heart attack, a stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is reduced or stopped, depriving that area of oxygen. One common cause includes blockage from a clot in blood vessels supplying the brain, or from a disease such as arteriosclerosis that has caused a narrowing of those vessels. This reduction in blood flow results in an ischemic stroke. Another common cause happens when blood supply is reduced by a leaking vessel in the brain, resulting in a hemorrhagic stroke.

Warning Signs

American Stroke Association: Warning Signs

Acting F.A.S.T. is key to receiving proper treatment. It is important for people to be able to recognize the symptoms of stroke and immediately seek emergency medical attention upon symptom recognition. Emergency treatment with a clot-buster drug called t-PA can help minimize or completely eliminate these disabilities, but it must be given within 3 hours of the onset of symptoms. Recognizing stroke symptoms can be easy if you remember to think F.A.S.T.

F= Face Ask the person to smile. Does one side of the face droop?
A=Arms Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S= Speech Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase. Does the speech sound slurred or strange?
T=Time If you observe any of these signs, then it's time to call 9-1-1.

Studies show that stroke patients who arrive at the hospital by ambulance receive quicker treatment than those who arrive by their own means.

What to Expect from Rehabilitation

National Stroke Association: Post-Stroke Rehabilitation 

  • Physical Therapy can offer a variety of services to patients at each stage of rehabilitation. Typical services offered include: assisting patients with transfering from the bed to a chair, walking, wheelchair fitting, family training, orthotic/prosthetic training, assistive device draining, and reccomendations for continued services.

How a Physical Therapist Can Help

Prevention: Some risk factors, such as family history, age, gender, race (stroke death rates are higher for African Americans even at younger ages,) and previous heart attack or stroke, cannot be changed. However, there are many that can be controlled, such as high blood pressure, cigarette smoking, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, carotid artery disease, obesity, and physical inactivity.

As experts in designing tailored exercise plans for individuals with a variety of medical conditions, physical therapists can help reduce risk factors and reverse their effects by creating an exercise program that addresses multiple conditions as well as prevention.

Rehabilitation: Recovering from a stroke depends on its size and location, how quickly you receive care, and, in some cases, other pre-existing health conditions. Rehabilitation begins very soon after your stroke, and physical therapists are an important part of the recovery team.

After an evaluation, your physical therapist will develop an individualized plan to maximize your quality of life. The plan will address your ability to move, any pain you may have, and ways to prevent problems that can occur after a stroke. The main focus is to help you return to your highest level of activity.

After rehabilitation, many stroke survivors also benefit from periodic assessments by a physical therapist to update their exercise program, help prevent further problems, and promote the healthiest possible lifestyle.

Research: Much of the current research in the field of stroke rehabilitation and recovery is being led by physical therapists. Physical therapists have discovered many innovative new treatments for stroke-related mobility issues and continue to make progress.

What's New in Stroke Rehabilitation 

Prevention of Future Strokes

Up to 80% of all strokes are preventable.  The National Stroke Association has developed the following Stroke Prevention Guidelines to help you reduce your stroke risk:

  1. Know your blood pressure.  Have your blood pressure checked on a regular basis.  If your blood pressure is high, work with your doctor to keep it under control. High blood pressure is a leading cause of stroke and its management may require changes in diet, engaging in regular exercise and medication.
  2. Find out if you have atrial fibrillation.
  3. If you smoke, stop. 
  4. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation.
  5. Find out if you have high cholesterol. High choleserol can increase your risk for stroke by causing the formation of plaques that can narrow and block blood flow through the arteries.  Diet and exercise are one way to control cholesterol.  Some individuals may require medication.  Talk with your doctor is your total cholesterol is over 200.
  6. If you are diabetic follow the advice of your doctor closely. Having diabetes can place you are increased risk for stroke.  Controlling your diabetes throgh lifestyle changes and medication can reduce your risk of stroke.
  7. Exercise on a daily basis. 
  8. Try a lower salt, lower fat diet.  Reducing sodium and fat intake can lower your blood pressure and risk for stroke.
  9. Ask your doctor if you have circulation problems that might increase your stroke risk.
  10. Know the Symptoms of Stroke. 
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