According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 795,000 people have strokes every year in the United States, and about 610,000 of these are first or new strokes. Recovering from a stroke can be a complex process that involves many types of therapies, and one option that shows promise is stem cell therapy.
Stem cell therapy promotes growth factors and offers relief from inflammation, providing the possibility of healing the damage the stroke caused. Learn more about stem cell therapy when used for the recovery period after a stroke.
How Strokes Affect the Brain
A stroke is like a heart attack, except it takes place in your brain. It occurs when something blocks the blood supply to the brain, not allowing the organ to get the oxygen and nutrients it needs. If your brain doesn’t receive blood, its cells begin to die off or suffer damage, making it impossible for the organ to do its job.
Your brain controls everything your body does, including how you move and how you think, feel, and communicate. The results of a stroke are immediate.
The two main types of strokes are ischemic strokes and hemorrhagic strokes. Ischemic strokes are the most common type and are caused by blockages. They can occur when:
- A blood clot forms in the main brain artery.
- A blockage forms in the small blood vessels deep within the brain.
- A blood clot from the heart or another type of blockage travels via the bloodstream to an artery supplying the brain.
Hemorrhagic strokes occur when there’s bleeding in or around the brain. They can be the result of a blood vessel bursting in the brain, or a blood vessel on the surface of the brain may burst and leak blood in the area between the skull and the brain.
When you have a stroke, the areas of the brain it affects determine the kind of issues you can struggle with.
Some people experience weakness and paralysis in certain parts of their body, while others struggle with language and the processes of speaking or understanding what other people say. A stroke can even affect what your voice sounds like.
Other issues you may experience include:
- Balance problems
- Trouble swallowing
- Visual problems
- Extreme fatigue
- Feeling pain
You may also struggle with mental processes like memory, concentration, understanding, and perception. Strokes can even affect your emotions.
Understanding Stem Cell Therapy: What Are Stem Cells?
Stem cells are the body’s building blocks. They are responsible for creating organs, tissues, and even your immune system. They are undifferentiated cells that can become and create specialized cell types. In other words, they can become any cell within the body, depending on where they’re placed.
Stem cells can also divide indefinitely, either creating other stem cells or specialized cells. When used to help the recovery period after a stroke, stem cells can differentiate into brain cells.
When they’re used in the brain, they don’t integrate and become neurons that reconstruct circuits. They instead start pumping out growth factors that enhance the recovery process, allowing new blood vessels and neurons to form. All of this helps make the brain more flexible, giving it a chance to recover after a stroke.
Neuroplasticity is what’s necessary for people who’ve suffered a stroke. It is the ability of the brain to rearrange its circuits, basing the organization on your behaviors.
Benefits of Stem Cell Therapy After a Stroke
Stem cell therapy is minimally invasive. You don’t have to worry about procedures that require long recovery processes or force you to spend time in the hospital. When you get stem cell therapy, the process is fast and can be done as an outpatient treatment.
Stem cells don’t just mask the symptoms of the damage the stroke caused. Experiencing pain after a stroke many times means turning to pain medications, which temporarily give you relief but also have unpleasant side effects. When you turn to stem cell therapy, your brain gets what it needs to start healing.
One of the most important things that stem cell therapy offers is the chance to relieve inflammation. When you suffer an injury of any kind, including a stroke, your body’s natural healing process causes inflammation.
This type of swelling, however, doesn’t allow a regular flow of blood to the injured area. Without the right degree of circulation, the damaged area doesn’t receive nutrients or oxygen, which makes healing more difficult. Stem cells help reduce inflammation, making the process of healing easier.
How the Stem Cell Therapy Process Works
Mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) have been studied for their potential therapeutic applications in various medical conditions, including stroke. MSCs have several properties that make them attractive candidates for stroke therapy:
- MSCs possess anti-inflammatory properties that can help modulate the immune response and reduce inflammation in the brain following a stroke. Excessive inflammation is a key contributor to secondary damage after a stroke.
- MSCs can modulate the immune system, potentially suppressing harmful immune responses while promoting tissue repair and regeneration.
- MSCs secrete various growth factors and neurotrophic factors that support neuronal survival, growth, and differentiation. These factors can contribute to the repair and regeneration of damaged neural tissue.
- MSCs can stimulate the formation of new blood vessels (angiogenesis), which is crucial for supplying oxygen and nutrients to the damaged brain tissue.
- While the ability of MSCs to differentiate into neurons is limited, they may contribute to neural repair indirectly by interacting with the local environment and supporting the survival of existing neurons.
Is Regenerative Medicine Right for You?
Suffering a stroke can be devastating, leaving you with lasting damage and impacting your quality of life. Along with physical therapy and other treatments your doctor recommends, patients are exploring their options with stem cell therapy. Stem cell therapy and other regenerative medicine options offer the opportunity to give your brain the tools it needs to start healing. By helping reduce inflammation and bringing growth factors to the treatment area, stem cell therapy provides the chance to promote neuroplasticity and start healing.