Stroke is the leading cause of disability in the U.S. and is the No. 3 cause of death, affecting almost 800,000 Americans each year. It is caused by an interruption to blood flow to the brain. There are two main types: clogged blood vessels (ischemic, the most common) and broken vessels (hemorrhagic). The main signs and symptoms of stroke are: sudden numbness or weakness of the arm or leg, particularly on one side; sudden difficulty speaking or understanding speech, seeing, or walking; or a sudden, very severe headache.
A similar but related problem is a mini-stoke called Atransient ischemic attack@ (TIA). This occurs when a blood vessel is blocked for a few minutes, causing no permanent damage. While not as serious as a stroke, it is a dangerous warning sign that a major stroke is imminent and requires serious, immediate attention and treatment. Some studies have found that almost half of those who have had a TIA never tell a health care provider.
Stroke also affects people differently. Recent studies show that African-Americans have strokes at twice the rate of whites and are more likely to die. Hispanics are also at increased risk of stroke.
There is now a very effective treatment for the clog type of stroke involving the drug Tissue Plasminogen Activator (tPA). Since most strokes are like a clogged pipe, the drug tPA, can be a very effective treatment but only when administered within the first few hours of the signs of a stroke. The drug helps dissolve the clog and restore blood flow to the affected part of the brain. allowing it to recover. Unfortunately since many people do not recognize the signs of stroke, the most common response is to lie down and rest. This prevents the use of a very effective treatment, because tPA must be administered very soon after a stroke to be effective.
Following a stroke, after the patient has been stabilized, the most common treatment involve physical and occupational therapy to retrain the brain to perform the tasks that were previously done by the damaged brain cells. One relatively unknown therapy (at least here in the U.S.) is the use of acupuncture. In China many regional medical centers offer both Western Medicine (and its related physical therapy) and Oriental Medicine (including acupuncture). There, acupuncture is the rehabilitation treatment of choice once the patient=s condition has been stabilized. Their studies show that patients recover more quickly and more thoroughly using acupuncture along with physical therapy. The most common type of acupuncture is a type of scalp acupuncture, where fine needles are inserted into regions of the scalp associated with the damaged portion of the brain affected by the stroke. Scalp acupuncture works on either the clog type or the bleeding type. Needles are manipulated while the patient or therapist moves or attempts to move the affected body part. When administered by a trained acupuncturist as part of an overall treatment plan, the results can be quite dramatic. This technique can be very effective up to one year after the stroke, although starting within six months is best. Occasionally, starting treatment longer than one year can produce good results.
One of the most successful types of scalp acupuncture is that pioneered by Dr. Ming Qing Zhu, originally from Taiwan and now residing in San Jose, CA. Dr. Zhu is recognized as the world=s leading expert on scalp acupuncture to treat stroke recovery, neurological conditions and closed head injuries. He has developed his style over the past 40 years and has taught all over the world. While new to this country, this technique offers hope to those who have recently suffered from stroke. One benefit of scalp acupuncture immediately following a stroke is that is can significantly reduce the brain swelling that follows a stroke and make the assessment of brain damage more clear at an earlier stage. However, it is important to realize it may have limited success for someone who has suffered a severe, devastating stroke affecting a significant portion of the brain. In addition to treating the affects of the stroke, it can also be used as a preventative measure to help guard against future strokes when used as part of a total program that monitors high blood pressure and cholesterol. It is not intended to be a substitute for necessary medications and supplements to control and regulate these serious conditions.
It is crucial for all of us to learn the signs of stroke and TIA and to know what to do. At the first sign of a stroke, dial 911 and arrange for the individual to be taken to a hospital where they can be evaluated to determine if a stroke has occurred and the proper treatment be administered. Once the patient=s condition has stabilized, consider acupuncture as part of a recovery program.