When the blood supply to the brain is disrupted or drastically reduced, the brain tissue becomes deprived of food and oxygen and a stroke occurs. Nearly 800,000 people suffer from a stroke yearly in the United States and strokes are not only the leading cause of long-term disability, they are also the third leading cause of death.
The majority of strokes are classified as ischemic strokes, which means that they are caused by blood clots. According to Murray Flaster, MD, PhD and his colleagues at the Loyola University Medical Center “The period immediately following an acute ischemic stroke is a time of significant risk. Meticulous attention to the care of the stroke patient during this time can prevent further neurologic injury and minimize common complications, optimizing the chance of functional recovery,” (journal of MedLink Neurology, May 2012).
In fact, researchers have found that patients who receive stroke care at hospitals with specialized cardiac care units, have an increased chance of being discharged for home, experience a greater improvement in quality of life and functional status and have a decreased likelihood of stroke-related mortality.
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If you are not fortunate enough to be omitted to a hospital with a specialized cardiac care unit after having stroke, the following recommendations from Flaster and colleagues, will help to reduce stroke-related damage and increase your likelihood for survival and a return to good health.
1. Control Your Blood Sugar Levels
Studies have found a strong correlation between high blood sugar levels (hyperglycemia) and poor stroke outcome. It is therefore very important that you monitor your blood sugar levels diligently and the authors recommend using frequent finger-stick glucose checks and aggressive insulin (the hormone that controls blood sugar levels) treatment.
2. Consume A Blood Sugar Friendly Diet
Due to the fact that your diet plays a big role in determining your blood sugar levels, you may want to talk to a healthcare practitioner about designing a personalized diet plan that will help to keep your blood sugar levels from rising too high. In the meantime, the American Diabetes Association recommends restricting your carbohydrate intake, and avoiding refined sugars and refined carbohydrates as much as possible. You should also reduce your intake of saturated fats (found in many animal products), consume a moderate amount of nuts and seeds and increase your intake of omega-3 fatty acids such as those found in walnuts, flaxseeds and coldwater fish.
3. Maintain a Cool to Normal Body Temperature
Every 1 degree C rise in body temperature in stroke patients, results in a more than doubled risk for severe disability or death. Preliminary studies have found that therapeutic cooling helps cardiac arrest patients, and scientist hypothesize that it may also be helpful to stroke patients. Until more research is done to confirm this hypothesis, Flaster and colleagues recommend maintaining a body temperature of between 95.9 and 99.5 degrees F.
4. Remain Lying Flat for at Least 24 Hours After the Stroke
Sitting upright decreases the ability of your heart to pump blood to your brain, and consequently, results in decreased blood flow to your brain. As such, many cardiac care units instruct their stroke patients to lie flat for 24 hours after the stroke. If you experience difficulty breathing when lying flat, Flaster recommends keeping the head of the bed at the lowest elevation that you can tolerate.