Cardiovascular health-related conditions are among the most common killers in America. This includes a wide range of diseases, from heart disease to hypertension. However, stroke is one of the most frightening such conditions, as there are often few or even no warning signs. A stroke can be deadly, or it can leave individuals languishing in pain, with reduced cognitive and physical capabilities.
What Is Stroke?
According to the National Stroke Association, stroke is
“a brain attack. It can happen to anyone at any time. It occurs when blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off. When this happens, brain cells are deprived of oxygen and begin to die. When brain cells die during a stroke, abilities controlled by that area of the brain, such as memory and muscle control, are lost.”
The American Stroke Association goes on to explain that,
“Stroke is a disease that affects the arteries leading to and within the brain. It is the fifth most common cause of death and a leading cause of disability in the United States. A stroke occurs when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is either blocked by a clot or bursts (or ruptures). When that happens, part of the brain cannot get the blood (and oxygen) it needs, so it and brain cells die.”
The Mayo Clinic adds
“a stroke is a medical emergency. Prompt treatment is crucial. Early action can minimize brain damage and potential complications.”
To add to this, there are different types of stroke. For instance, an ischemic stroke involves a clot blocking the blood flow to the brain. A hemorrhagic stroke involves a blood vessel rupturing, disrupting blood flow. A transient ischemic attack, or mini-stroke, is caused by a temporary clot or a spasm of an artery that briefly blocks blood flow.
What Are the Symptoms of Stroke?
While there are several different types of stroke, they all tend to present with a few similar symptoms. However, it should be noted that some patients will experience only some symptoms, while others may experience almost no symptoms depending on the severity of the stroke. For example, a mini-stroke may only create mild symptoms that last a very brief period.
Some of the more common symptoms of stroke include:
- Loss of balance
- Weakness or numbness on one side of the body, the face, or an extremity
- Loss or dimming of vision in both or one eye
- Sudden severe headache
- Loss of speech or difficulty speaking
- Unstable walking
- Difficulty understanding what others are saying
Who Is at Risk for a Stroke?
While stroke can affect anyone at any age, there are risk factors that make an individual more susceptible to the condition. Some of these are preventable – that is, they are lifestyle factors that are within the patient’s control. Some of them are not.
Some of the most common factors that are within patient control include high blood pressure, obesity, coronary artery disease, excessive drinking, smoking and other tobacco use, and uncontrolled diabetes. Risk factors outside of patient control include age, gender, family history, and race.
How Can You Prevent Stroke?
Up to half of all stroke cases could have been prevented. Moderate alcohol consumption and quitting smoking, combined with a healthy diet, exercise, and control of other health conditions through medication can prevent stroke.
What Is Post-Stroke Recovery?
Post-stroke recovery, or rehabilitation as it is sometimes called, is the name given to the process of rehabilitating stroke victims. This can include a very wide range of therapies depending on the damage caused by the stroke.
The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke explains,
“Rehabilitation helps stroke survivors relearn skills that are lost when part of the brain is damaged. For example, these skills can include coordinating leg movements in order to walk or carrying out the steps involved in any complex activity.”
Rehabilitation may include physical therapy, speech therapy, cognitive therapy, recreational therapy, occupational therapy, and may be necessary to address problems with thinking and memory, as well as with emotions.
What Role Might Stem Cell Therapy Play in Post-Stroke Recovery?
Stem cells have proven to have immense potential in treating a very broad range of diseases, including stroke. Stem cell therapy has been successfully used several times to help patients rehabilitate and recover after both ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke.
In 2018, a study entitled Potential of Stem Cell-Based Therapy for Ischemic Stroke was published in the journal Frontiers in Neurology. The authors noted that,
“Stem-based therapy for ischemic stroke is still in its infancy. Several alternative approaches including the use of ESCs, MSCs, NSC, and iPSCs have been tried in hopes of improving the drastic neuronal and functional impairment that usually follows a stroke insult. The outcomes of various preclinical studies have been encouraging, with (in most cases) engrafted stem cells succeeding in bringing about neurofunctional improvements.”
Another study involved stroke victims treated with stem cells and saw benefits as far out as three years after the stroke, with some patients regaining significant mobility and even some ability to walk. California’s Stem Cell Agency actually went so far as to hold a Facebook Live event in mid-2018 during which experts explained the benefits, capabilities, and limitations of current stem cell technology for treating stroke survivors.
Stem Cell Types
It is important to understand that there are two types of stem cells used in these treatments – allogeneic stem cells and autologous stem cells. They are not created equal. Autologous stem cells are sourced from the patient’s own body, and are low-energy cells with genetic damage that may incite an immune system response. Allogeneic stem cells, on the other hand, are invisible to the immune system, and are sourced from umbilical cord blood and tissue, meaning they have immense energy and healing capabilities.
Ultimately, stem cell therapy shows great promise for helping stroke survivors regain their quality of life and independence. However, more study is needed. Also, there are currently no FDA-approved stem cell treatments in the US, and any such therapies should be considered experimental.