Electrical Therapy for Stroke Treatment

Am older man in a hospital bed his doctor

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Most of the widely used medical stroke treatments have traditionally been directed towards preventing the propagation of blood clots in the blood vessels that supply the brain. Some of the highly specialized stroke treatments such as tissue plasminogen activator and intra-arterial thrombolysis work to dissolve blood clots with the goal of re-perfusion of blocked blood vessels in the brain. These blood thinning and clot-busting treatments have been considered revolutionary, but also can have potentially serious side effects. Careful in-hospital patient monitoring and intensive care support are fundamentally focused on the crucial maintenance of health stability through methods such as blood sugar regulation and careful blood pressure and body fluid titration to help support maximal recovery. This is often referred to as ‘supportive care,’ although it is really a very meticulous period of scrutinizing every aspect of the recent stroke victim’s condition.

Like every organ in the body, the brain needs an adequate blood supply for the delivery of oxygen and vital nutrients to produce energy required for survival and function. Nerve cells in the brain actually work with each other in a unique way, through coordinated electrical signals. When the brain is damaged by a stroke, the brain’s ability to send and receive electrical signals becomes severely impaired. So, could treatment of damaged brain tissue with direct electrical stimulation help revive the brain’s ability to properly function? Can electrical treatment help to heal the injury produced by a stroke? 

Scientists and researchers have asked that very question and have gone as far as to design and perform several research experiments to study whether impaired brain activity after a stroke can be restored with electrical therapy. Some of the results look promising.

Electrical Therapy

An article describing a research experiment on the effects of electrical stimulation of the brain done at the University of Queensland was published in April 2014. The experiment demonstrated that non-invasive electrical stimulation of the scalp does actually produce changes in brain activity, as demonstrated by functional brain MRI.

Another research study from The Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard Medical School, was published in the August 2014 issue of the journal CNS Neuroscience and Therapeutics. The authors of this article reported that directed electrical stimulation to cerebellar cells could protect the brain cells from the type of damage that is produced by ischemia through a protective process called neuroprotection. The researchers reported several ways that electrical stimulation produces neuroprotection. This new research may open the door to a new method of stroke treatment or stroke prevention.

Magnetic Therapy

An interesting research study published in the August 2013 issue of Brain Research demonstrated the beneficial effects of magnetic stimulation. Magnetic stimulation was found to produce an increase in blood flow in blood vessels of the brain.

Future Directions in Stroke

A stroke can be a devastating event for the stroke survivor, for friends, and for loved ones. It can affect daily functioning, relationships, and the ability to drive and work. It can affect mood and can alter one’s outlook towards life oneself. Treatments have improved over the past 30 years.

Electrical stimulation or magnetic stimulation may be an option for some recovering stroke patients in the near future. Thus far, these treatments have not been widely studied or widely used. Future research will likely evaluate safety for patient use.

If you are a recovering stroke patient interested in the latest treatment options, you might want to learn more about whether experimental treatment is right for you.

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