Electrical stimulation may help people recover after having a common type of stroke.
Each year, more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke.
Of them, nearly 40 percent go on to experience moderate to severe physical and mental complications, estimates the National Stroke Association. Another 25 percent have minor issues in the aftermath of a stroke.
Now stroke patients may have access to a new type of treatment that may help minimize the degree of complications.
The therapy, known as active nerve cell cluster stimulation, uses a small device implanted through the roof of the mouth that sends electrical stimulation to the nerves behind the nose.
When administered within 24 hours after a stroke, the nerve stimulation treatment was found to reduce the degree of disability in stroke patients three months after having the most common type of stroke, according to a new study published in The LancetTrusted Source last month.
The new treatment could be a safe, effective option for many stroke patients who are not eligible to receive traditional clot-busting medications, the researchers said.
“This study opens the avenues to develop treatment options for patients with acute ischemic stroke who are not eligible for standard of care acute stroke therapy to improve functional outcomes and to reduce long-term disabilities,” Dr. Anand Patel, a vascular neurologist at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, New York, told Healthline.
To measure just how effective the therapy is, researchers from multiple institutions, including UCLA and Northwestern University, studied 1,000 participants who had an acute cortical ischemic stroke. In this type of stroke, blood flow to the brain is obstructed.
The participants were randomly assigned into two groups: one that received the stimulation therapy and another that underwent a placebo therapy.
Throughout the study, the first group received stimulation to the nerve-cell cluster behind the nose four hours per day for five consecutive days.
In a subgroup of 520 participants who’d experienced major deficits and injury to the brain, nearly half of the participants who received the new, experimental nerve therapy experienced favorable outcomes, versus 40 percent of the participants who didn’t receive the stimulation.
Although these findings aren’t statistically significant, the researchers note, when the results are combined with previous research from earlier trials, there’s enough evidence to suggest that the therapy is a safe, effective stroke treatment when given anywhere from 8 to 24 hours after a stroke.
During a stroke, there’s an interruption of blood supply to the brain.
The key to treating a stroke and minimizing long-term damage is to quickly and effectively restore blood flow to the brain.
Typically, doctors treat stroke by opening blocked arteries or removing a clot. They do this with either clot-dissolving medications or surgically reopening clotted blood vessels.
However, the medication’s effectiveness drops significantly if it’s given more than three hours after a stroke. The medicine also doesn’t work for all patients, and some aren’t able to take it due to other health issues.
Furthermore, not every medical center has the proper expertise needed to treat patients with clot-retrieval devices.
Stimulating the nerve cells behind the nose may improve stroke outcomes in one of three ways, according to health experts.
“First, stimulation of this nerve bundle actually improved blood flow to the brain starved of oxygen during a stroke. Second, stimulation seems to fortify the blood-brain barrier, thereby [decreasing] the leakiness that causes swelling after a stroke,” said Dr. Jason Tarpley, a stroke neurologist and director of the Stroke and Aneurysm Center at Providence St. Joseph Health Pacific Neuroscience Institute.
“Finally, stimulation enhances plasticity of the brain, in which noninjured parts of the brain can pick up the job of the injured brain areas,” Tarpley added.
In other words, this therapy can quickly feed oxygen to the brain and protect tons of brain cells.
Ischemic stroke is the leading cause of long-term physical and psychological disabilities, according to Patel.
The road to recovery can be a long and difficult one.
Following a stroke, many people will experience a wide range of complications, including slurred speech, double vision, an inability to perform tasks, and trouble maintaining balance, among several others.
Strokes are also responsible for about 140,000 deaths in the United States each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source.
Seeing as stroke is such a common and debilitating health issue in the United States, it is crucial to develop new, powerful treatment options to maximize the chances of people returning to their regular lives as soon as possible after a stroke.
Each year, nearly 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke. More than half go on to experience a range of physical and mental complications.
Scientists have found that a new type of therapy, called active nerve cell cluster stimulation, may have what it takes to effectively reduce the degree of disability in some people after a stroke.