May National Stroke Awareness Month

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) finds about 795,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke every year. You have better odds of surviving if you get emergency treatment right away.

Ischemic strokes are caused when a blood clot blocks a vessel in the brain and stops blood flow. Doctors need to quickly restore that blood flow because your brain cells are dying. You can get a clot busting drug in the Emergency Room to reduce complications and improve survival odds. Researchers at Harvard Medical School say high blood pressure can quadruple your stroke risk. Try to relieve stress, lose weight and exercise to get it under control. Your heart health is also important. Atrial fibrillation can cause blood clots that travel to the brain.

May is National Stroke Awareness Month. For stroke signs, the CDC says remember the acronym, F.A.S.T. for face drooping, a numb or weak arm, slurred speech and time to call 911. Other symptoms can be trouble seeing, dizziness and sudden severe headache. So what happens to your brain during a stroke? White matter changes in the brain show up in 44 percent of stroke patients, which can lead to higher risk of death, another stroke, brain bleed, heart attack or dementia. White matter is a pathway that connects one region of the brain to another. Research in the National Institutes of Health has shown as long as neuron cell bodies stay healthy, axons can regrow and slowly repair themselves, restoring neural networks. Neurofeedback has been utilized in studies as a form of cognitive rehabilitation therapy with patients following a stroke.

In fact, a five-year UCLA study tested animals and found their brains can be repaired and brain function recovered after a stroke. Researchers found the brain sent replacement cells to the damaged site but then the process stalled. They identified a molecular receptor believed responsible for stalling the repair. When they blocked that receptor, the animals began to recover from the stroke. According to Dr. Thomas Carmichael, this finding could lead to new therapies to prevent more brain damage and improve recovery from a white matter stroke, which is a major factor in dementia. Damage happens in tiny blood vessels deep in the brain, where they’re blocked and oxygen can’t get through. They can go unseen with damage increasing over time.

Doctors say diet and how often you eat affects brain cell regeneration. A sedentary lifestyle can add to brain blood flow problems. If you’re sitting at your desk all day without the right posture, it can restrict blood flow to the brain. Even coffee and caffeine can further decrease blood flow.

Many stroke patients have long-term neurological problems and trouble with speech, confusion, visual field loss and balance. Recovery is like a roller coaster. They can experience a wide range of emotions and may need psychological counseling. They can be triggered, talking to friends and family, who remind them of their life before, when they felt normal. They may also cry easily. Stroke victims can have brain fog as the day progresses, and by night, they can’t carry on conversations or do tasks.

Writing and reading can also be difficult. Some stroke patients describe it feeling like they’re blocked, struggling to remember words and make their point. They may have to read the same sentence over and over to comprehend it. Speech therapy is crucial along with physical therapy to gain more muscle control. Occupational therapy can help with daily tasks like getting dressed and cooking. A stroke victim may wonder will it ever get better? It will. It just might be a long road to recovery.

A Fox News Radio contributor, Richardson has spent her educational and professional career learning human behavior. She holds a Master of Science in Counseling from the University of North Texas and is working to integrate cognitive behavioral therapy into the treatment programs for many clients. In April 2009, Richardson opened The Brain Performance Center.

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