When a stroke hits, so begins a race against the clock to restore circulation and normalize fluid pressure in the brain. Brain damage can begin if the problems aren’t resolved within minutes, and severe damage can be long-lasting and even permanent, if not deadly. A new treatment may be able to normalize brain pressure and reduce potential damage.
Ischemic strokes cause brain damage because of two factors: lack of oxygen and cerebral edema. Current treatments are often successful in restoring circulation, but the edema has been tougher to treat. Researchers recently discovered that a medication typically used to treat high blood pressure and enlarged prostates can restore normal brain pressure, halting the damage and accelerating recovery. This is a potentially life-saving discovery.
About 800,000 people suffer from strokes each year in the United States, and treatment is largely based on the type of stroke that's happened. The most common type of stroke is ischemic, which occurs when an artery becomes clogged, depriving the brain of fresh oxygen. Treatment usually involves injecting medications into the bloodstream to dissolve the clot, although sometimes angioplasty or surgical intervention is necessary.
The other type of stroke is hemorrhagic, which is usually the result of a brain aneurysm or a complication from malformed blood vessels. Doctors generally need to surgically repair or remove the damaged vessel to resolve a hemorrhagic stroke and prevent further damage. In some cases, stereotactic radiosurgery, or use of directed radiation, can repair damaged areas.
With both types of stroke, neurons begin to die off within minutes of onset. In ischemic strokes, this often comes with a release of chemicals that can trigger fluid imbalances in the brain, leading to swelling. Life-threatening edema can result, which can be a major factor in the level of brain damage a person sustains.
Researchers at the RIKEN Center for Brain Science, along with others at Keio University and the University of Copenhagen, have found a treatment that may be able to reverse the edema associated with ischemic strokes: Adrenergic receptor (AdR) antagonists, or alpha blockers, usually used to manage enlarged prostates and hard-to-treat cases of high blood pressure, may now have another valuable use.
A recent study on mice showed AdR blockers were able to halt stroke damage when administered up to two hours after onset, and the treated mice also recovered movement in their front paws quicker. This means the addition of AdR blockers to current treatments may provide stroke victims faster and more complete recoveries. According to a recent press release, lead author Hiromu Monai said their discovery could be “critical to protecting brain tissue during stroke.”
More effective treatments may be on the horizon, but the best way to avoid damage from ischemic stroke is to avoid having a stroke in the first place. The best way to do that is to live a healthy lifestyle — eating balanced and nutritious meals, exercising regularly and not smoking. Still, strokes aren’t always preventable. Hopefully, this knowledge and other new advances will begin to make them far less devastating.