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Life After a Stroke

The time it takes to recover from a stroke varies—it can take weeks, months, or even years. Some people recover fully, while others have long-term or lifelong disabilities.

Ongoing care, rehabilitation, and emotional support can help you recover and may even help prevent another stroke.

If you’ve had a stroke, you’re at risk of having another one. Know the warning signs of a stroke and transient ischemic attack (TIA) and what to do if they occur. Call 9–1–1 as soon as symptoms start.

Do not drive to the hospital or let someone else drive you. Call an ambulance so that medical personnel can begin life-saving treatment on the way to the emergency room. During a stroke, every minute counts.

Ongoing Care

Lifestyle changes can help you recover from a stroke and may help prevent another one. Examples of these changes include quitting smoking, following a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight, and being physically active. Talk with your doctor about the types and amounts of physical activity that are safe for you.

Your doctor also may prescribe medicines to help you recover from a stroke or control your stroke risk factors. Take all of your medicines as your doctor prescribes.

If you had an ischemic stroke, you may need to take anticoagulants, also called blood thinners. These medicines prevent blood clots from getting larger and keep new clots from forming. You’ll likely need routine blood tests to check how well these medicines are working.

The most common side effect of blood thinners is bleeding. This happens if the medicine thins your blood too much. This side effect can be life threatening. Bleeding can occur inside your body cavities (internal bleeding) or from the surface of your skin (external bleeding).

Know the warning signs of bleeding so you can get help right away. They include:

  • Unexplained bruising and/or tiny red or purple dots on the skin
  • Unexplained bleeding from the gums and nose
  • Increased menstrual flow
  • Bright red vomit or vomit that looks like coffee grounds
  • Blood in your urine, bright red blood in your stools, or black tarry stools
  • Pain in your abdomen or severe pain in your head

A lot of bleeding after a fall or injury or easy bruising or bleeding also may mean that your blood is too thin. Call your doctor right away if you have any of these signs. If you have severe bleeding, call 9–1–1.

Talk with your doctor about how often you should schedule followup visits or tests. These visits and tests can help your doctor monitor your stroke risk factors and adjust your treatment as needed.

Rehabilitation

After a stroke, you may need rehabilitation (rehab) to help you recover. Rehab may include working with speech, physical, and occupational therapists.

Language, Speech, and Memory

You may have trouble communicating after a stroke. You may not be able to find the right words, put complete sentences together, or put words together in a way that makes sense. You also may have problems with your memory and thinking clearly. These problems can be very frustrating.

Speech and language therapists can help you learn ways to communicate again and improve your memory.

Muscle and Nerve Problems

A stroke may affect only one side of the body or part of one side. It can cause paralysis (an inability to move) or muscle weakness, which can put you at risk for falling.

Physical and occupational therapists can help you strengthen and stretch your muscles. They also can help you relearn how to do daily activities, such as dressing, eating, and bathing.

Bladder and Bowel Problems

A stroke can affect the muscles and nerves that control the bladder and bowels. You may feel like you have to urinate often, even if your bladder isn’t full. You may not be able to get to the bathroom in time. Medicines and a bladder or bowel specialist can help with these problems.

Swallowing and Eating Problems

You may have trouble swallowing after a stroke. Signs of this problem are coughing or choking during eating or coughing up food after eating.

A speech therapist can help you with these issues. He or she may suggest changes to your diet, such as eating puréed (finely chopped) foods or drinking thick liquids.

Emotional Issues and Support

After a stroke, you may have changes in your behavior or judgment. For example, your mood may change quickly. Because of these and other changes, you may feel scared, anxious, and depressed. Recovering from a stroke can be slow and frustrating.

Talk about how you feel with your health care team. Talking to a professional counselor also can help. If you’re very depressed, your doctor may recommend medicines or other treatments that can improve your quality of life.

Joining a patient support group may help you adjust to life after a stroke. You can see how other people have coped with having strokes. Talk with your doctor about local support groups or check with an area medical center.

Support from family and friends also can help relieve fear and anxiety. Let your loved ones know how you feel and what they can do to help you.

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Stroke Clinical Trials

Clinical trials are research studies that explore whether a medical strategy, treatment, or device is safe and effective for humans. To find clinical trials that are currently underway for Stroke, visit www.clinicaltrials.gov.


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March 26, 2014 Last Updated Icon

The NHLBI updates Health Topics articles on a biennial cycle based on a thorough review of research findings and new literature. The articles also are updated as needed if important new research is published. The date on each Health Topics article reflects when the content was originally posted or last revised.