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Lesson 42. Cerebral Vascular Accident


a. Definition. Cerebral vascular accident (CVA) (stroke) is the disruption of the blood supply to the brain, resulting in neurological dysfunction.

b. Causes of Cerebral Vascular Accidents.

(1) Thrombosis--blood clot within a blood vessel in the brain or neck.
(2) Cerebral embolism.
(3) Stenosis of an artery supplying the brain.
(4) Cerebral hemorrhage--rupture of a cerebral blood vessel with bleeding/pressure into brain tissue.

c. Risk Factors Associated with Cerebral Vascular Accidents.

(1) Hypertension.
(2) Previous transient ischemic attacks.
(3) Cardiac disease (atherosclerosis, arrhythmias, valvular heart disease).
(4) Advanced age.
(5) Diabetes.

d. Signs and Symptoms.

(1) Highly dependent upon size and site of lesion.
(2) Motor loss--hemiplegia (paralysis on one side of the side) or hemiparesis (motor weakness on one side of the body).
(3) Communication loss.
(a) Receptive aphasia (inability to understand the spoken word).
(b) Expressive aphasia (inability to speak).
(4) Vision loss.
(5) Sensory loss.
(6) Bladder impairment.
(7) Impairment of mental activity.
(8) In most instances onset of symptoms is very sudden.
(a) Level of consciousness may vary from lethargy, to mental confusion, to deep coma.
(b) Blood pressure may be severely elevated due to increased intracranial pr e ssure.
(c) Patient may experience sudden, severe, headache with nausea and vomiting.
(d) Patient may remain comatose for hours, days, or even weeks, and then recover.
(e) Generally, the longer the coma, the poorer the prognosis.

(9) Increased intracranial pressure is a frequent complication resulting from hemorrhage or ischemia and subsequent cerebral edema.

e. Medical and Nursing Management during the Acute Phase of Cerebral Vascular Accidents.

(1) Objectives of care during the acute phase:

(a) Keep the patient alive.
(b) Minimize cerebral damage by providing adequately oxygenated blood to the brain.
(2) Support airway, breathing, and circulation.
(3) Maintain neurological flow sheet with frequent observations of the following:
(a) Level of consciousness.
(b) Pupil size and reaction to light.
(c) Patient's response to commands.
(d) Movement and strength.
(e) Patient's vital signs--BP, pulse, respirations, and temperature.
(f)     Be particularly aware of changes in any of the above. Deterioration could indicate progression of the CVA.
(4) Continually reorient patient to person, place, and time (day, month) even if patient remains in a coma. Confusion may be a result of simply regaining consciousness, or may be due to a neurological deficit.
(5) Maintain proper positioning/body alignment.
(a) Prevent complications of bed rest.
(b) Apply foot board, sand bags, trochanter rolls, and splints as necessary.
(c) Keep head of bed elevated 30, or as ordered, to reduce increased intracranial pressure.
(d) Place air mattress or alternating pressure mattress on bed and turn patient every two hours to maintain skin integrity.

(6) Ensure adequate fluid and electrocyte balance.

(a) Fluids may be restricted in an attempt to reduce intracranial pressure (ICP).
(b) Intravenous fluids are maintained until patient's condition stabilizes, then nasogastric tube feedings or oral feedings are begun depending upon patient's abilities.

(7) Administer medications, as ordered.

(a) Anti hypertensives.
(b) Antibiotics, if necessary.
(c) Seizure control medications.
(d) Anticoagulants.
(e) Sedatives and tranquilizers are not given because they depress the respiratory center and obscure neurological observations.

(8)   Maintain adequate elimination.

(a) A Foley catheter is usually inserted during the acute phase; bladder retraining is begun during rehabilitation.
(b) Provide stool softeners to prevent constipation. Straining at stool will increase intracranial pressure.

(9) Include patient's family and significant others in plan of care to the maximum extent possible.

(a) Allow them to assist with care when feasible.
(b) Keep them informed and help them to understand the patient's condition.

f. Rehabilitation of the Patient after a Cerebral Vascular Accidents.

(1) Multidisciplinary team is most frequently utilized.
(2) Process of setting goals for rehabilitation must include the patient. This increases the likelihood of the goals being met.
(3) General rehabilitative tasks faced by the patient include:
(a) Learning to use strength and abilities that are intact to compensate for impaired functions.
(b) Learning to become independent in activities of daily living (bathing, dressing, eating).
(c) Developing behavior patterns that are likely to prevent the recurrence of symptoms.
  • Taking prescribed medications.
  • Stopping smoking.
  • Reducing day-to-day stress.
  • Modifying diet.
(4) Specific teaching, encouragement, and support are needed.
(5) Individualized exercise program involving both affected and unaffected extremities is required.
(6) Speech therapy, as indicated by patient's condition, may be necessary.
(7) Continuous revaluation of goals and patient's ability to meet the goals is required to maintain a realistic plan of care.
(8) Counseling and support to family is an integral part of the rehabilitation process.
(a) Both family and patient need direction and support in coping with intellectual and personality impairment.
(b) Instruct family to expect some emotional lability such as inappropriate crying, laughing, or outbursts of temper.
(c) Instruct family to be supportive and optimistic, but firm as well. They must avoid doing things for the patient that he can do for himself.

David L. Heiserman, Editor

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Revised: June 06, 2015