A stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA aka mini-stroke) is the sudden interruption of the normal blood supply to the brain (neurons). The acute phase involves the first 72 hours after the onset of symptoms. The chronic stroke phase begins after this and extends for many years. The interruption of the normal blood supply may be due to either ischemia – insufficient supply of blood due to a blocked or narrowed vessel (80% of cases) or hemorrhagic – bleeding into the brain tissue itself. Whatever the cause the loss of brain function is the same. It may be life-threatening and is the third leading cause of death. Stroke is the leading cause of disability in the United States.
Who does stroke typically affect?
Stroke is primarily a disease of the elderly – over 65 years of age. It has a slightly increased incidence in men. It may occur at any age but in younger people it is usually due to an inherited problem. Risk factors are high blood pressure, diabetes, cigarette smoking, high cholesterol and atrial fibrillation.
What are the most common symptoms of stroke?
The neurological findings are entirely due to the location in the brain of the damaged neurons. It can be anything from a facial or extremity weakness, to loss of vision or the sudden onset of a seizure or unconsciousness. The diagnosis is confirmed with imaging – either a CT scan or MRI.
What are the traditional treatments for stroke?
If the diagnosis of ischemic stroke is made with 3 hours of the onset of symptoms a clot busting medication such as TPA may be given through an IV in a hospital. This is less effective if given later. TPA cannot be given for a hemorrhagic stroke. Once stabilized, the patient receives intensive physical and occupational therapy in hopes of regaining the activities of daily living and improving the quality of life. No other drugs or surgical intervention is helpful.
Why is stroke amenable to oxygen therapy?
When the blood flow to the brain tissue is interrupted due to either an ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke the oxygen supply to the neurons in the brain is cut-off. The brain represents only 3% of the body weight but uses 20% of the oxygen pumped to the body from the heart. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) provides the oxygen necessary to keep the neurons alive and functioning. In addition, HBOT significantly increases the stem cells in the blood that are mobilized from the bone marrow by 800%. These new cells move to the brain and contribute to the growth of new neurons and recovery from the stroke.
What benefits can I expect from oxygen therapy for stroke?
Since every patient is different it is hard to predict the result in each individual case. However, we know from 50 years of experience that HBOT is safe and will not make the patient worse. Over 80% of patients achieve improvement in conjunction with physical and occupational therapy. The usual oxygen therapy is once daily, five days a week (M-F) for eight weeks. If a significant response is noted after 40 HBOT additional treatments may be helpful.
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