How are stroke and diabetes linked?

Diabetes is among the risk factors for stroke. The risk of stroke is 1½ times higher in people with diabetes. People with diabetes often have other risk factors for stroke including high blood pressure, weight problems and high cholesterol.

A stroke is damage to part of the brain tissue as a result of a loss of blood and oxygen. 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 cannot store oxygen, so it 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 a part of the brain tissue. When the tissue is cut off from its supply of oxygen for more than three to four minutes, it begins to die.

By getting your diabetes, weight, blood pressure and cholesterol to their target levels you can lower your risk of stroke and heart disease. Exercise, good nutrition and taking medications if needed can all help you stay healthy.

What are the warning signs and symptoms of stroke?

A stroke is a medical emergency. If you experience any of the major stroke warning signs and symptoms listed below, call 9-1-1. You must get to the hospital immediately.

  • 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
  • Double vision or decreased vision in one or both eyes
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Dizziness, loss of balance or lack of coordination
  • Sudden inability to move part of the body (paralysis)
  • Sudden, unexplainable and intense headache

How is a stroke treated?

  • Medications: The only FDA approved treatment for acute ischemic (sudden onset) stroke is a thrombolytic agent (TPA) or "clot buster" medication. TPA must be given within the first 4½ hours of the onset of stroke symptoms. Also, several new and experimental drugs may stop — and even reverse — the brain damage if administered immediately after a stroke.
  • Endovascular stroke treatment is the physical removal of the blood clot using a wire device called a stent retriever. The device is guided toward the clot through a main artery and traps and removes the clot.
  • Speech therapy for speech and memory problems associated with stroke
  • Diagnostic tests to guide the treatments used to prevent a recurrent stroke
  • Changes in diet and lifestyle, as well as medications to treat atherosclerosis (the build-up of fatty deposits within the blood vessel walls)
  • Physical and occupational therapy for recovery of strength and ability to perform previous activities

How can a stroke be prevented?

  • Don't smoke.
  • Have your cholesterol level checked. Control your cholesterol level, if necessary, by limiting the amount of fat and cholesterol you eat and/or by taking medications prescribed by your healthcare provider.
  • Limit the amount of alcohol you drink.
  • Monitor your blood pressure. Control your blood pressure, if necessary, with diet and medications.
  • Follow your health care provider's instructions for changing your diet.
  • Follow your health care provider's instructions for preventive medications.
  • Exercise.

More serious medical preventive measures may be needed, including:

  • Carotid endarterectomy: surgical removal of the plaque within the carotid artery (the artery that supplies blood to the brain)
  • Carotid angioplasty and stenting procedure: a less invasive treatment appropriate for some patients who have blockages of the arteries leading to the brain

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/20/2018.

References

  • American Diabetes Association. Stroke Accessed 4/25/2018.
  • National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse. Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke Accessed 4/25/2018.
  • National Stroke Association. Diabetes Accessed 4/25/2018.
  • Luitse MJ, Biessels GJ, Rutten GE, Kappelle LJ: Diabetes, hyperglycemia, and acute ischaemic stroke. Lancet Neurol 2012, 11:261-271

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