One day in 2021, while working in the office, central government employee Krishnakumar K, 52, of Kerala felt a severe throbbing headache on his left side. His vision blurred and he could not read what was written on the sheet in his hand.
“Am I losing my vision?” he thought. Within seconds, he felt giddy and could not move his left hand. Chaos engulfed him, he now says, recollecting the day. “I tried to rise from the chair, but immediately lost consciousness and fell to the floor.”
His colleagues rushed him to the hospital, where the doctor told them Krishnakumar had suffered a severe stroke due to high blood pressure. His left side was paralysed.
When stroke strikes
“A stroke is a neurovascular condition which requires medical emergency,” says Dr Somesh Vanchilingam, senior consultant neuro specialist and stroke doctor at Dr Vanchilingam Hospital, Chennai.
A sudden obstruction in the blood flow or bleeding in the brain causes a stroke. It cuts off the oxygen supply and nutrients to the brain or a few regions. As a result neurons or brain cells begin to die.
Since the brain requires oxygen and nutrients more than the rest of the body, the obstruction leads to long-lasting impairments. Muscle weakness, paralysis, difficulty speaking, slow or lost thinking ability, besides impaired vision and hearing are the oft-seen symptoms
Stroke recovery through ayurveda
“In Ayurveda, stroke is referred to as pakshaghata, and it comes under vata vyadhi,” says Dr Sriharsha K V, chief ayurvedic physician at Sritulasi Ayurvedalaya, Bengaluru. He adds that an imbalance of vata or air and space elements causes the condition. Vata is responsible for body movement and circulation in the body. Hence, the person faces difficulty in movement, poor circulation, weak immunity and issues of the nervous system.
Some early clues of stroke include severe headaches, sudden muscle weakness, blurred vision, incoherence and an inability to follow a conversation.
Managing post-stroke symptoms
“Acute stroke should be treated in a stroke ICU and a hospital equipped with a catheterisation lab,” says Dr Vanchilingam. However, he adds, integrative therapies like physiotherapy and passive yoga will be beneficial during the rehabilitation phase.
Stroke broadly affects the muscle strength and blood circulation of the body. Dr Sriharsha lists a few ayurveda approaches that provide relief to the person: nourishing the body with herbal oil massages (abhyanga), rice bolus treatment (shastika shali), ointments (lepa) and medicated enema (vasti). These remedies help the affected persons regain body strength and reduce the complications of stroke.
Ashwasana (literally meaning `reassurance’ or `morale booster’) or psychotherapy is recommended for associated anxiety and depression.
After being discharged from the hospital, Krishnakumar opted for a 21-day rehabilitation care. Since the stroke episode, he has made healthy lifestyle changes to control the risk factors of recurrence. He avoids fried foods and eats more leafy greens and vegetables.
Dr Vanchilingam explains that mechanical thrombectomy and intravenous or IV thrombolysis are the recent gold-standard treatments to restore the blood supply. However, the timing of administering these therapies is crucial for recovery, he emphasises. Timely revascularisation therapies can reverse stroke symptoms and save people from post-stroke damage and fatality.
Relearning to reset life
A healthy diet followed by physiotherapy will help stroke-affected individuals to return to their everyday life, says Dr Stephen Abraham, physiotherapist, International Academy for Health & Science, Bengaluru.
“Physiotherapy is usually done post-stroke for muscle stiffness, spasticity and problems with movement and balance,” he explains. “If a person cannot move the limbs, we do passive movements to avoid muscle stiffness with the help of facilitation techniques and muscle stimulation, which strengthens muscles and promotes relearning of functions,” he adds.
The rehabilitation management is customised to suit the effect of the stroke. It involves preventing blood clot formations in deep veins (deep vein thrombosis), deformities and pain management.
“Now I can do 70 per cent of activities using my left hand,” says Krishnakumar. He modified his daily routine, which included twice a week of physiotherapy and regular exercises, and pranayama for half an hour. Additionally, he takes prescribed herbal medicines to boost his immunity.
“I keep a small oil-soaked cloth on the head 10 min before bath,” he adds. “I follow a balanced, low-sodium diet, including mushrooms, saffron and aloe vera.” He ensures he is hydrated by taking at least 2.5 litres of warm water daily.
Prevention and timely care
“Prevention is always better than cure. A healthy diet, exercise, [adequate] sleep and stopping smoking and alcohol are advised, leading to a stress-free, healthy and happy life that will reduce the risk of a stroke,” says Dr Vanchilingam.
Dr Sriharsha adds that guided practice of yoga and gazing at a lit candle (trataka) can aid rehabilitation.
Both doctors emphasise that early diagnosis is critical to reduce the extent of damage caused by stroke. Also important is awareness of stroke symptoms and rushing the person to the nearest stroke centre that can offer stroke thrombectomy.