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Research

Nerve stimulation therapy to promote neural repair after stroke

A new study, published in The Lancet, finds that electrical stimulation therapy may help people recover after having a stroke.

In the United States, more than 795,000 people have a stroke each year. It is the most common cause of severe, long-term disability. According to the National Stroke Association, nearly 40% of them go on to experience minor to severe mental and physical complications. Another 25% have slight issues in the aftereffects of a stroke.

Now stroke patients may have access to a new treatment which may help reduce the degree of problems. This therapy is called active nerve cell cluster stimulation. It uses a small device which is inserted through the roof of the mouth. This device sends electrical stimulation to the nerves behind the nose.

When directed within 24 hours after a stroke, this treatment was found to decrease the degree of disability in stroke patients 3 months after having the most common type of stroke.

According to the researchers, this treatment could be safe and effective for many patients who are not fit to have traditional clot-busting medications.

Nerve stimulation reduces the degree of disability 

To measure the effectiveness of the therapy, scientists from multiple institutions, including UCLA and Northwestern University, studied 1,000 participants. These patients had an acute cortical ischemic stroke. In this type of stroke, blood flow is obstructed to the brain.

The participants of the study were divided into 2 groups. One group received the stimulation therapy and another group underwent a placebo therapy. Throughout the study, the first group received stimulation to the nerve-cell cluster behind the nose 4 hours per day for five successive days.

In a subgroup of 520 participants who’d experienced a brain injury, nearly half of the members who received the new therapy experienced positive outcomes, versus 40% of the participants who did not receive the stimulation.

Although these outcomes are not statistically important, the scientists note, when the outcomes are combined with previous research, there’s enough indication to suggest that the therapy is effective stroke treatment when given anywhere from 8 to 24 hours after a stroke.

How the therapy could help stroke patients

There’s an interruption of blood supply to the brain during a stroke. The key to treating a stroke and minimizing lasting damage is to quickly restore blood flow to the brain. Usually, doctors treat stroke by removing a clot or opening blocked arteries. They do this with either medication or surgically reopening clotted vessels.

However, the effectiveness of medicine drops knowingly if it is given more than 3 hours after a stroke. The medication also doesn’t work for all patients.

According to health experts, stimulating the nerve cells behind the nose may recover stroke outcomes in one of three ways;

First, stimulation of this nerve bundle improved blood flow to the brain. Second, stimulation seems to support the blood-brain barrier, thereby decreasing the leakiness which causes swelling after a stroke. Lastly, stimulation improves the plasticity of the brain, in which non-injured brain parts can pick up the job of the injured brain areas.

In other words, this treatment can speedily feed oxygen to the brain and protect brain cells.

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