Diabetes and Stroke

Overview

What is a stroke?

A stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain is blocked or bursts. A stroke interrupts the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain, which can damage brain tissue and lead to:

  • Difficulty speaking or understanding speech.
  • Memory loss.
  • Numbness or paralysis (inability to move).
  • Pain.
  • Problems controlling or expressing emotions, or depression.
  • Trouble thinking, paying attention, learning or making judgments.
  • Sometimes death.

What is diabetes stroke risk?

Adults with diabetes are 1.5 times more likely to have a stroke than people who don’t have diabetes. And they are almost twice as likely to die from heart disease or stroke as people without diabetes.

Symptoms and Causes

How does diabetes cause stroke?

Diabetes prevents your body from processing food properly. Your body can’t make insulin or can’t use insulin correctly, which causes glucose (sugar) to build up in your blood.

Over time, high glucose levels can damage the body’s blood vessels, increasing the chance of stroke.

Many adults with diabetes also have other health problems that can lead to stroke:

The symptoms of diabetes-related stroke are the same as the symptoms of any stroke:

  • Any trouble talking.
  • Dizziness, problems with balance or trouble walking.
  • Severe, sudden headache.
  • Sudden confusion.
  • Trouble seeing or double vision.
  • Weakness or numbness on one side of the body (for example, one side of the face, one arm or one leg).

A stroke is a medical emergency. Get medical attention immediately if you experience any of the symptoms.

Diagnosis and Tests

How is stroke diagnosed?

If you may have had a stroke, a healthcare provider will likely:

  • Check whether you can move your face muscles, arms and legs.
  • Determine whether you are thinking clearly by asking simple questions or asking you to describe a picture or object.
  • Order tests to take pictures of your brain, such as a CT scan or MRI.
  • Use other tests to examine your heart (electrocardiogram) or blood vessels (ultrasound or arteriogram).

Management and Treatment

If a stroke or stroke risk is identified early, some treatments can help, such as:

  • Drugs to break up blood clots.
  • Surgery to place a stent in a blood vessel to open it and increase blood flow (carotid stenting).
  • Surgery to remove fat blocking your arteries (carotid endarterectomy).

If you have a stroke and have long-lasting effects from it, rehabilitation may include:

  • Occupational therapy to relearn how to do important daily tasks, such as writing and getting dressed.
  • Physical therapy to regain strength and function in your arms and legs.
  • Psychological counseling to cope with any mental health issues caused by stroke.
  • Speech therapy to learn how to talk better if stroke affected your speech.

Prevention

How can I reduce my diabetes stroke risk?

If you have diabetes, certain lifestyle changes can help you lower your chance of stroke:

  • Check your blood glucose level often and take steps to keep it within a healthy range (less than 140 mg/dL).
  • Check your blood pressure regularly and report problems to your healthcare team.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet to lower cholesterol and maintain a healthy weight.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Get enough sleep to maintain health and energy.
  • Keep all of your medical appointments.
  • Limit salt in your diet to help control blood pressure.
  • Maintain a healthy weight and lose belly fat.
  • Quit smoking and/or using tobacco products.
  • Take all of your medications exactly as prescribed.

Outlook / Prognosis

The outlook after stroke varies a lot from person to person. Depending on the type of stroke and its effects, recovery can take weeks to years. Some people have minor strokes and don’t experience any effects. Others have major strokes and lifelong disabilities.

Similarly, some people may be able to go home quickly after stroke treatment. But others may require time in the hospital or a long-term care facility (rehabilitation, also called rehab).

Living With

When should I call 911?

If you have diabetes, you and your loved ones should be aware of the signs of stroke. Seek medical attention right away If you experience:

  • Any trouble talking.
  • Dizziness, problems with balance or trouble walking.
  • Severe, sudden headache.
  • Sudden confusion.
  • Trouble seeing or double vision.
  • Weakness or numbness on one side of the body (for example, one side of the face, one arm or one leg).

A note from Cleveland Clinic

People with diabetes have a higher chance of stroke, which can cause serious health problems and disabilities. But you can reduce your risk of stroke if you monitor and control your blood glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol and weight. Talk to your doctor about your risk of stroke and ways to prevent it.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/15/2021.

References

  • American Diabetes Association. What Is a Stroke? (https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/complications/stroke) Accessed 10/28/2021.
  • American Diabetes Association. Complications. (https://www.diabetes.org/diabetes/complications/stroke) Accessed 10/28/2021.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Recovering from Stroke. (https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/recovery.htm) Accessed 10/28/2021.
  • National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Diabetes, Heart Disease, and Stroke. (https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/preventing-problems/heart-disease-stroke) Accessed 10/28/2021.

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