Ramy El Khoury, MD
Tulane University, New Orleans, USA
A stroke is a brain attack that occurs when a blood clot blocks an artery, or a blood vessel ruptures, interrupting blood flow to an area of the brain. Thereafter, brain cells start dying. Strokes can be life threatening and cause tremendous damage including vision, speech, gait difficulties, and paralysis.
A large number of Lebanese have diabetes, a condition in which blood glucose levels are higher than normal. People who have diabetes are two to four times more prone to have a stroke than people who do not have diabetes. They also tend to develop heart disease or have strokes at an earlier age than people without diabetes.
How can diabetes lead to stroke?
The relation between diabetes and stroke has to do with the way the body handles it owns sugars (glucose). Most of the food we eat is broken down into glucose to give us energy. It enters the bloodstream and travels to cells throughout the body after food is digested. The hormone, insulin, produced by the pancreas, allows the cells in the body to use this glucose to produce energy.
In diabetics, the pancreas does not make insulin (Type 1 diabetes), or it makes too little insulin or the cells in the muscles, liver and fat do not use insulin the right way (Type 2 diabetes).
Over time, this glucose can lead to increased fatty deposits or clots on the insides of the blood vessel walls. These clots can narrow or block the blood vessels in the heart, brain or neck, cutting off the blood supply, stopping oxygen and nutrients from getting to the brain and causing a devastating stroke.
What can you do if you have diabetes?
You can take steps to keep your heart and blood vessels healthy and ward off your risks of stroke.
- Manage well your diabetes
- Maintain a heart-healthy diet
- Keep your cholesterol low
- Don’t smoke, smoking doubles the risk for stroke
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise every day
- Talk to your doctor about preventive medicines, including taking a low dose of aspirin every day.
And finally, don’t forget the warning signs of stroke, including facial asymmetry, visual changes, speech changes, and weakness.
It is therefore essential to understand the strong relationship between diabetes and stroke, recognize the risk factors and take steps to stay healthy and prevent strokes.
What happens, then, is a person with diabetes ends up with too much glucose in their blood, while their cells don’t receive the required energy.