In the summer of 2008, the American Heart Association published a recap of an extensive study that establishes a relationship between sudden sensorineural hearing loss, more easily called SSNHL, and stroke. This condition is marked, obviously, with the sudden onset of hearing loss, as in one day you hear fine and a week later you cant hear the TV anymore. So, were not talking about the slow, gradual hearing loss associated with the ageing process. This is different.
You hear. Then you don’t. Very sudden.
The SSNHL study, conducted in Taiwan, showed a clear relationship between the onset of sudden hearing loss and stroke. Published in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association, this important study suggests that sudden loss of hearing might be an early sign of vulnerability to stroke, foreshadowing an actual cerebrovascular event [stroke] as much as two years [later].
SSNHL Study Results
The study, which took place over five years, tracked 1,423 patients who had been hospitalized for unexplained, acute, sudden hearing loss. Also included in the study as a control group [for comparison purposes] were 5,692 patients admitted for simple appendectomies.
The group reporting severe hearing loss was more than 150% more likely to experience a stroke within two years of the hearing loss when compared to the appendectomy control group. That number falls well outside the margin of error, which means the results, in fact, do establish that all-important connection between sudden hearing loss and the potential for stroke.
What IS a Stroke?
The human brain needs oxygen and nutrients to function properly. This oxygen and these nutrients are delivered to the brain by large blood vessels. If you put two fingers on the lower side of your neck, you’ll feel the blood pumping through these large vessels, feeding the brain and delivering oxygen.
Now, imagine if one of these key blood vessels becomes clogged with plaque, cholesterol or a blood clot from another part of the body. What happens?
Within 60 seconds, brain cells start to die. And the longer the stroke victims brain goes without oxygen, the more brain damage can be expected. This is why stroke victims must often learn to speak, walk and perform simple, everyday chores all over again. The brain cells that stored that information died from a lack of oxygenated blood.
The effects of a stroke can be mild, with many patients recovering to live long, happy, healthy and productive lives. Other strokes are fatal depending on which parts of the brain are affected, the age of the patient and other factors like overall health. A fit, healthy individual will survive a stroke with fewer effects than an out-of-shape, overweight person yet another reason to get out of the recliner and take a walk. It won’t kill you. But sitting there like a lump may do just that.
Results Must be Interpreted with Care
Not with a grain of salt, however.
Lead investigator, Herng-Ching Lin, Ph.D and professor at the Taipei Medical University School of Health Care Administration, urged caution in drawing too many conclusions too quickly.
To the best of our knowledge, no study has investigated the incidence or risk of cerebrovascular diseases developing following the onset of sudden sensorineural hearing loss, Lin said. But because this is the first time any association has been suggested, and because there were many limitations in the data, the results need to be interpreted cautiously until additional independent studies are performed. The data used during the study was limited because there’s no medically accepted definition of SSNHL.
Dr. Lin continued. Secondly, the database did not contain information regarding severity of hearing loss, extent of hearing recovery, tobacco use, body mass index and the medical history of cardiovascular disease and atrial fibrillation all of which can contribute to stroke risk. In other words, the data was incomplete with regard to other factors that affect hearing and the incidence of stroke.
Take Care to Take Care
Alright, let’s start with risk factors who is more likely to have a stroke. Now some of these factors are simply the way life goes, but just as many are related to lifestyle. Think about that as you review the list:
- Increasing age (the older you are, the more apt you are to have a stroke, though even young people are susceptible).
- Men are more likely to experience a stroke in their lifetimes than women.
- African-Americans are more likely to experience a stroke than other races and ethnic groups.
- Those with a family history of stroke are at higher risk.
- People with high blood pressure (hypertension) have increased susceptibility.
- Diabetics have more strokes.
- Smoking contributes to the likelihood of a stroke and recently has been tied to hearing loss.
- High levels of cholesterol rings alarm bells for a possible stroke.
- Obesity is a contributing factor.
- Heart disease or a previous heart attack are also warning signs that an individual is a big target for a stroke down the line without basic lifestyle changes.
Warning Signs of Stroke
If you experience any of these unexplained symptoms, seek medical assistance immediately:
- Sudden weakness in arms and legs
- Loss of feeling on one side of face
- Blindness in one eye
- Inability to hear or understand what is being said to you
- Dizziness or loss of balance
- Terrible headaches
Scared? Don’t Be.
There’s plenty we can all do to lessen the likelihood of having a stroke at any age. And you know most of them already but just to jog your memory, here are some tips to keep you healthy and happier longer.
- Have an annual physical over the age of 50. Your physician can often detect early warning signs of a possible stroke.
- Eat a low-fat diet. (Another good reason to eat well.)
- Review your family history. Ask about grandpa, great-grandpa, as far back as you can go.
- Lose weight. If you’re 10% over your ideal body weight, shed those extra pounds by eating a healthier, lower-fat diet. It’s easy once you kick that fast-food addiction.
- Don’t smoke.
- Check your blood pressure regularly. You can purchase the equipment on the web.
- Have your cholesterol checked frequently. There are lots of free clinics sponsored by drug store chains so keep your eyes peeled.
- Move it or lose it. Get up, strap on your walking shoes and hit the bricks. Start slowly and work your way up. Your goal? A brisk, 20-minute walk three times a week.
- Mange your diabetes.
- Take all medications prescribed by your physician. If you experience any unusual side effects, get back to the physician’s office ASAP.
A stroke can diminish the quality of life, not only for the victim, but for his or her family. It is a stressful time, but one you can avoid, even if strokes run in your family. And the longer you live by the rules of good nutrition and exercise, the better your chances of not having a stroke.
It’s never too late to improve your health and your odds.
Sudden Loss of Hearing
Sudden loss of hearing is a scary thing and often comes without any known cause. If you experience a sudden, acute loss of hearing, visit your physician or nearest medical center as soon as possible for treatment. Although there is no standard protocol in treating SSNHL, the majority of physicians treat with steroids. If you do experience SSNHL, ensure your physician tests you for stroke risk. Remember, there’s a 150% increase in risk of stroke within that patient group that experienced sudden hearing loss.
You don’t have to be one of them if you start living better today.