Stroke and Heart Disease: Can a Stroke Make You Disabled?

by Editorial Board on April 1, 2015 · 0 comments

in Heart & Circulation,Neurological Disorders

Heart disease and strokes are the two leading causes of deaths in the U.S. Strokes and heart disease often result due to narrowing of the blood vessels or “atherosclerosis”. Narrowing of blood vessels severely impedes or stops blood flow to important organs like the brain and heart. Blood is vital for carrying oxygen and nutrients to cells in the body and because brain cells are extremely sensitive they begin to die within seconds after blood flow is stopped. This can lead to permanent disability, and even death.

Deposits of “bad”, or LDL, cholesterol are the major cause of atherosclerosis which in turn causes a stroke and heart disease. Atherosclerosis or narrowing of blood vessels occurs when cholesterol and other fatty deposits build up on the inner walls of the blood vessels. Overtime this build up narrows the blood vessels, impeding the supply of blood and oxygen to organs including brain in the body.

Uncontrolled hypertension (high blood pressure) and diabetes also increase the risk of having a stroke or a heart attack. Hereditary factors are also known to play an important role, these problems do run in the family to some extent. Similarly, smoking, alcohol, unhealthy diet, passive or inactive life-styles, stress, and obesity are all important risk factors for heart disease and strokes.

If a man had a mini-stroke or full-blown stroke, the risk of having another one is 4 in 10 within five years. This figure is 2 in 10 for women. Stroke can result in a wide range of disabilities.

The most common impairment is loss of motor control (the ability to move muscles in a coordinated manner). Usually occurring on one side of the brain, stroke causes motor control disorders usually on just one side of the body. It can lead to weakness of muscles (hemiparesis) or complete paralysis (hemiplegia) on the affected side. In case of hemiparesis or hemiplegia, falls are the common complications of such motor control disorders. About 40% of survivors have serious falls within a year of their stroke episode.

Difficulty in swallowing (dysphagia) occurs due to motor disorders involving the mouth, tongue, or throat muscles. It has been seen in about 65% of stroke patients. Dysphagia may result in choking or aspiration of foods or liquid. If food particles enter lungs due to aspiration, it may result in aspiration pneumonia. If not identified early and managed, it can lead to poor nutrition and increased disability.

Memory loss is another important form of disability seen in patients after stroke. Difficulty in recalling simple facts, names, or other important information, and short attention span is commonly seen in these patients. Apraxia is related to the stroke and that mimics dementia symptoms. Apraxic patients are unable to make decisions and carry out simple tasks. Patients with memory problems show a great deal of difficulties at work and may not be able to carry out even simple routine tasks.

Other sensory problems with hearing, vision, touch, or pain perception are not uncommon in stroke patients. In case of weak or paralyzed limbs, the patient may feel pain, numbness, or tingling in the affected limb. Without regular exercise, affected limbs may freeze into place, resulting in loss of function and even chronic pain.

Another important form of disability that may be seen in stroke patients is their problem with communications, a condition called aphasia. A Patient may not be able to transform thought into speech or writing, be unable to comprehend the written or spoken word, or suffer a  complete disruption of language skills.  This would obviously be a disabling impairment.

Depression and tendency towards suicide are often mental health problems in stroke patients. If not treated promptly, these mental problems can lead to severe consequences. These patients show mental instability and personality changes affecting their daily routines at work and at home.

Both heart disease and strokes are mentioned in the medical conditions listed in the Social Security Administration’s impairment listing manual or “blue book”. If you have severe heart disease and/or stroke, you can file for Social Security disability benefits.  Heart disease alone, or just having a stroke, will not automatically mean you qualify for disability benefits.  To win benefits you have to be so severely limited by your medical impairments that you can no longer work full time.

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