When the flow of blood to the brain is obstructed or prevented, serious damage to its delicate tissue can result. After all, the brain needs a steady circulation of life-giving blood in order to remain fully alive and functioning. Perhaps the most well-known cardiovascular brain injury happens when a person has a stroke, in which part of the brain is damaged due to a lack of blood supply. A stroke may occur just once, or it may recur many times. With each incidence, a certain degree of brain functioning is damaged or lost permanently. Often, patients experience “mini strokes,” which cause temporary loss of functioning but abate after a few hours. These can be taken as warning signs that a more serious stroke may soon follow. Blood clots can also impede blood flow and lead to brain injury.
Because stroke is by far the most common cause of cardiovascular brain injury, it is important to be able to recognize the symptoms. According to the American Stroke Association, seek medical attention immediately if you or someone you love exhibits the following symptoms: sudden weakness or numbness, especially if it occurs on one side of the face or body; sudden confusion or difficulty in speaking or understanding; sudden difficulty seeing in one or both eyes; difficulty walking or maintaining balance; dizziness or loss of coordination; severe headache that has no known cause.
Early and immediate treatment of stroke is crucial, and can mean the difference between full recovery and permanent disability. In recent years, doctors have experienced great success with a new class of drugs called thrombolytics. More commonly known as t-PA, this medication, if administered within the first few hours of a stroke, can have pronounced positive effects on the long term recovery of the patient.
In spite of the best efforts of everyone involved, however, strokes and other cardiovascular problems can do permanent damage to the brain and affect a person’s ability to function independently, as well as his or her behaviors. In the most severe of cases, debilitating confusion, paralysis and dementia are seen. Frequently, stroke survivors and their families also report excessive crying, disorientation and depression. These side effects can be extremely disturbing to everyone involved, and can often sap the patient’s motivation to work hard during rehabilitation.
This underscores the importance of the multi-disciplinary professional team, whose members are well-versed in helping those with brain injuries to cope with the plethora of symptoms these traumas can cause. A well-rounded team usually consists of a neurologist to monitor physical symptoms, an occupational therapist that will provide strategies for successfully completing daily tasks, a physical therapist to assist with balance, coordination and locomotion, and a speech therapist to assess and treat language difficulties.
Often, a treatment team can successfully partner with the patient to help restore a good deal of physical, mental, speech and language abilities. The combination of early diagnosis and treatment, as well as competent, comprehensive post-injury rehabilitation, can make a tremendous difference in the well-being and successful recovery of the brain injury patient.