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Stroke and Diabetes

If you have diabetes, it’s important to understand your increased risk of stroke. Multiple studies have shown that people with diabetes are at greater risk for stroke compared to people without diabetes -- regardless of the number of health risk factors they have. Overall, the health risk of cardiovascular disease (including stroke) is two-and-a-half times higher in men and women with diabetes compared to people without diabetes.

What Is a Stroke?

Brain tissue needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients to keep nerve cells and other parts of the tissue alive and functioning. The brain relies on a network of blood vessels to provide it with blood that is rich in oxygen. A stroke occurs when one of these blood vessels becomes damaged or blocked, preventing blood from reaching an area of the brain. When that part of the brain is cut off from its supply of oxygen for more than three to four minutes, it begins to die.

There are two types of strokes: those that are caused by a rupture in an artery, also known as hemorrhagic stroke, and strokes that are caused by blockage of an artery, also known as ischemic stroke.

Risk Factors of Stroke

High blood pressure is the number one risk factor for stroke. Other risks include smoking cigarettes and high levels of LDL ("bad") cholesterol.

When people with diabetes have a stroke, they often fare worse than individuals without diabetes. When the oxygen supply is cut off, other arteries can usually deliver oxygen by bypassing the blockage. In people with diabetes, however, many of the bypass arteries are also affected by atherosclerosis, impairing blood flow to the brain. Other risk factors may be responsible for poorer outcomes in people with diabetes following stroke, as well.

While overall death rates from strokes have decreased, it is unclear whether death rates from strokes have decreased in people with diabetes.

What Are the Symptoms of Stroke?

A stroke is an emergency whether you have diabetes or not. If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately. You must get to the hospital as soon as possible:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness in the face, arm, or leg (especially on one side of the body)
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding words or simple sentences
  • Sudden blurred vision or decreased vision in one or both eyes
  • Sudden difficulty swallowing
  • Dizziness, loss of balance or becoming uncoordinated
  • Brief loss of consciousness
  • Sudden inability to move part of the body (paralysis)
  • Sudden, unexplainable, and intense headache

What Is the Treatment for Stroke?

One FDA-approved treatment for ischemic stroke is a clot buster drug called tPA. This drug must be given within the first three hours after stroke symptoms begin for it to work. This drug dissolves the clot that has clogged an artery and can reestablish blood flow to brain tissue. This drug is not appropriate for all ischemic stroke patients, especially for those with a history of major surgery in the last two weeks or recent head trauma. 

WebMD Medical Reference

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