Different Strokes in the East and the West

There are people who are seldom sick most of their lives, but then one stroke can leave them devastated both physically and mentally. The problem is that most  people do not know the signs of an imminent stroke, especially when they are young and healthy. Unfortunately, strokes are an insidious disease. In the United States, more than 700,000 people suffer from a stroke each year. Of the two-thirds who survive, stroke survivors have to deal with varying levels of disabilities in speech, vision and movement (usually one-sided). Sometimes, stroke sufferers fall into comas because of the resulting brain damage.

In China, many people also suffer from strokes, however studies prove that they tend to regain mobility and normal neural function quicker. You may wonder how this is possible. In addition to a combination of physical, speech and occupational therapies, the standard protocol for Chinese stroke patients is to have immediate acupuncture and Chinese herbs as complementary treatments. As we now know, the longer you wait, the less likely that the impaired part of the brain will recover and regenerate.

Before we talk about the traditional treatments for stroke in China, let us familiarize ourselves with the types of strokes known to this date. One type of stroke is caused by a blood clot in the brain, which usually affects the side of the body opposite from the side of the brain where the clot occurred. When the blood clot occurs in the brain, it is called an embolus. A clot that occurs in another part of our body and later moves to the brain is called a thrombus. The clot blocks circulation to that part of the brain and it is referred to as an “ischemic” stroke. 80% of strokes fall into this category. Symptoms include:

  • Loss of balance or coordination: trouble walking and dizziness
  • Numbness, weakness or paralysis of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Vision problems: trouble seeing in one or both eyes (including dimness, blurring, double vision or loss of sight)
  • Mental confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
  • Severe headaches: Cause unknown

Another type of stroke is caused by the rupture and subsequent leakage of an artery (usually due to a head injury or aneurysm in the brain artery). More deaths result from this type of stroke. There is internal bleeding and it is known as a “hemorrhagic” stroke.

The symptoms include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Neck stiffness
  • Dizziness
  • Possible seizure

Changes in mental state:

  • irritability and confusion
  • Possible unconsciousness
  • Severe headache: sometimes in a specific region

If we follow an ischemic stroke patient in China, we would see that the patient might first receive anti-platelets and/or anti-coagulants from doctors trained in Western medicine when he/she first arrives at the hospital. In addition to Western modalities, doctors trained in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), would perform head acupuncture above the affected side of the patient’s brain and sometimes, acupuncture is also applied to the paralyzed side of the body. After the patient becomes stabilized, the TCM doctors collaborate with physical therapists to discuss stroke rehabilitation. Studies in China have shown that acupuncture coupled with physical therapy and herbal treatments greatly enhance the efficacy in stroke recovery rates than just physical therapy alone. Electro-acupuncture is also a common and effective means of treatment in stroke rehabilitation.

Acupuncture works to enhance Qi and blood circulation in the brain and on the affected side of the body. It helps to rebuild the brain’s ability to communicate with the body. Strokes also debilitate patients emotionally in addition to the physical trauma. Acupuncture can also help calm the patient and help them deal with depression.

At the Tao of Wellness, we treat numerous stroke patients. We strongly advise patients to seek treatment as soon as possible after a stroke because the results are much better. However, most stroke patients coming to the Tao of Wellness have not received immediate acupuncture treatments right after the onset of their strokes. Depending on the age and extent of the stroke damage, it may take several sessions of acupuncture treatments in combination with Western physical therapy to see noticeable results. Therefore, it is important to know that time is of the essence, especially for senior citizens, to receive treatments at an early stage. To decrease the chances of a stroke, please be aware of the following risk factors recommended by the American Stroke Association:

    • High blood pressure
    • Tobacco use
    • Diabetes mellitus
    • Heart disease, carotid and other artery disease, peripheral artery disease, a trial fibrillation
    • Certain blood disorders: sickle cell disease, high blood cholesterol
    • Physical inactivity and obesity
    • Excessive alcohol and some illegal drugs
    • Transient Ischemic Attacks (TIAs), symptoms include: problem with vision, speech, behavior and thought processes; possible loss of consciousness, seizure, dizziness (vertigo)
    • Weakness or numbness on one side of the body
    • Increasing age
    • Sex (gender), pregnancy, birth control pills
    • Heredity (family history) and race
    • Prior stroke or heart attack