Diabetes and strokes are linked. Multiple studies indicate that diabetes increases your risk of having a stroke. Diabetes also reduces your body’s ability to respond to a stroke. But what is a stroke, what are its effects, how is it treated and how can you lower your risk?
A stroke is a rapid loss of brain function when the blood supply to a particular area of the brain is interrupted. As a result of the lack of blood, the affected area of the brain ceases to function. If the flow of blood is cut off for more than three or four minutes that part of the brain begins to die.
There are two types of strokes:
- Haemorrhagic strokes are caused by a rupture in a blood vessel that supplies the brain.
- Ischemic strokes are due to a blocked blood vessel.
If you suffer a stroke, it is likely that you will be unable to move your arm or leg on one side of your body … or, you may be unable to understand what people are saying or to speak. Your vision may also be affected. These disabilities can become permanent.
The risk factors for stroke include … advancing age … previous strokes … hypertension (high blood pressure) … diabetes … high cholesterol levels … and smoking. There’s not much you can do about the first two of these, but you can reduce all the other risks.
If you have diabetes there is 85% chance that you also have high blood pressure, the leading cause of strokes. The key to reducing your risk is to control your blood pressure and blood glucose levels.
Diabetes also makes it harder for your body to counteract the effects of a stroke. Usually, when a supply of oxygen is cut off, other blood vessels can serve as a bypass to feed the affected areas of the brain.
But persons with diabetes may also have atherosclerosis, a condition in which alternative supply routes may be hardened or clogged with plaque. This makes it harder for blood to get to the brain.
Signs of a stroke
The onset of a stroke can have many signs:
- Sudden numbness in the face, arm, or leg on one side of the body
- Sudden inability to move part of the body
- Sudden trouble understanding words or simple sentences
- Sudden inability to speak
- Sudden trouble in swallowing
- Sudden blurring of vision
- Sudden worsening of vision in one eye
- Sudden dizziness or loss of balance
- Sudden loss of coordination
- Sudden intense headache
- Brief loss of consciousness
If someone you are with experiences one or more of these symptoms, you should get them to the nearest medical emergency unit immediately. Any delay can lead to permanent paralysis or other damage.
Treatments for stroke
The quicker a stroke patient can get appropriate medical attention, the better their chances of recovery in whole or in part.
For example, tissue plasminogen activator (tPA) given through a thin tube in the arm is used to treat ischemic stroke. It dissolves the clot that has clogged an artery and so it can restore blood flow to the brain.
To be effective, however, this clot-buster drug must be administered within three hours or so of the stroke … hence the need for speed when someone has a stroke.
Besides tPA, there are several other drugs under development that may be able to reverse brain damage. Again these will have to be administered immediately after a stroke.
Other treatments for stroke include carotid endarterectomy, a type of surgery for removing plaque from inside the carotid artery. This artery supplies much of the blood to the brain.
Angioplasty and stenting is a technique in which a deflated balloon is introduced into an artery to expand its walls. Then a stent (a permanent mesh structure) is inserted to keep the artery open. Unfortunately this procedure is not always effective, especially with diabetics.
Strokes are the leading cause of disability in adults the USA and Europe, and the number two cause of death worldwide. For this reason, many new techniques to remove blood clots after a stroke are under development.
In addition, rehabilitation techniques for stroke victims with permanent disabilities are also being researched.
How to prevent a stroke
There is no sure fire way you can prevent yourself from ever having a stroke. But you can reduce your risk of getting a stroke as follows:
- Smoking … just give it up (it’s not an impossible task)
- Blood pressure … (a) have it checked regularly, and (b) always take medications if prescribed
- Cholesterol … (a) have levels checked regularly and (b) always take medications if prescribed
- Blood glucose … get your blood sugar under control with diet and medications (if prescribed)
- Exercise … making the effort now is better than not being able to move after a stroke
- Weight … check it regularly, reduce it if necessary and maintain it at a healthy level
- Alcohol … limit your drinking to just a few drinks a week
- Aspirin … make sure you take low-dose slow-release aspirin daily (if prescribed)
- Preventative medicines … make sure that you take any other prescribed medicines