Are strokes more prevalent at certain times of the year? For years there has appeared be an increase in incidents of strokes during the winter versus the summer. It is important to know exactly what a stroke is to get a better understanding of why this might be true. A stroke is when the flow of blood carrying oxygen to the brain is interrupted. This is most commonly due to a blockage caused by a blood clot. A stroke can also be due to a hemorrhage in the brain’s blood vessels. This causes damage to the brain that can manifest itself in a variety of ways including: loss of balance, facial drooping, one sided body weakness, slurring of speech. If you notice these symptoms in yourself or someone else it is important to call 911 immediately. The quicker appropriate care is received the better the outcome for the patient.
Risk factors for stroke include, but are not limited to:
- high blood pressure
- heart disease
- family history
- advanced age
Some of these factors can be decreased with lifestyle changes such as eating a healthy diet, getting an appropriate amount of exercise, and quitting smoking.
There have been many studies in different parts of the world that have shown an increase incident of stroke during the winter according to Dr. Daniel Lackland a professor of epidemiology at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston. So, what is it about the cold winter months that may contribute to the increase incidence? During the colder weather people stay indoors and are generally less active. The cold weather may constrict blood vessels which can contribute to elevating blood pressure and may tend to thicken blood increasing risk of blood clots. In the northern hemisphere the holiday season during the winter months can contribute to increased stress, anxiety and depression which can be contributing factors. Increasing your activity/exercise during the colder months and maintaining a healthy diet may help limit you risk of developing a stroke. It is also important to keep and eye on friends and loved ones who may be more at risk for a stroke and support them in limiting their risk.
It is important to seek treatment relatively quickly after suffering a stroke. There is evidence to show that the greatest amount of recovery is within the first 18 months after a stroke. “Stroke patients will have some degree of natural recovery without rehab, but there is quite a bit of evidence that formal rehabilitation helps patients recover faster and better than they would otherwise,” states Dr. E.S. Clafllin of the University of Michigan. Generally speaking stroke patients may benefit from a combination of Physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy to address weakness, deconditioning, functional deficits and communication difficulties.
Rehabilitation usually begins quickly after the stroke in and inpatient setting in a hospital or rehabilitation facility working on transfers and walking, balance and performing activities of daily living. As the patient progresses, they are often seen in an outpatient facility by physical therapists and occupational therapists who are movement specialists to advance functional mobility, balance, strength, endurance and activities of daily living.
The good news is there are ways you can take action to reduce your risk of stroke. Maintaining physical activity throughout the autumn and winter months, getting medical attention for symptoms of depression, trying to get sunlight exposure, and taking steps to avoid infection can all play a role in reducing your risk of having a stroke.
If you or a loved one has recently suffered a stroke, please reach out to your nearest Axes Physical Therapy location for a Free Injury Screening to assess your condition.