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.
If you’ve had a stroke, you’re at risk of having another one. Know the warning signs and what to do if a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) occurs. Call 9–1–1 as soon as symptoms start.
Do not drive to the hospital or let someone else drive you. By calling an ambulance, medical personnel can begin lifesaving treatment on the way to the emergency room. During a stroke, every minute counts.
Heart-Healthy Lifestyle Changes
Heart-healthy lifestyle changes can help you recover from a stroke and may help prevent another one. Examples of these changes include heart-healthy eating, aiming for a healthy weight, managing stress, physical activity, and quitting smoking.
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. Don’t cut back on the dosage unless your doctor tells you to do so. If you have side effects or other problems related to your medicines, talk with your doctor.
Medicines called anticoagulants or blood thinners, which prevent blood clots or keep existing blood clots from getting larger, are the main treatment for people who have known carotid artery disease, which can lead to a stroke. Two common medicines are aspirin and clopidogrel.
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:
- Blood in your urine, bright red blood in your stools, or black tarry stools
- Bright red vomit or vomit that looks like coffee grounds
- Increased menstrual flow
- Pain in your abdomen or severe pain in your head
- Unexplained bleeding from the gums and nose
- Unexplained bruising or tiny red or purple dots on the skin
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.
Your doctor also may discuss beginning statin treatment. Doctors recommend statin medications for many people because they help lower or control blood cholesterol levels and decrease the chance for heart attack and stroke. Doctors usually prescribe statins for people who have:
- Heart disease or have had a stroke
- High LDL cholesterol levels
You should still follow a heart-healthy lifestyle, even if you take medicines to control your risk factors for stroke. Take all medicines regularly, as your doctor prescribes. Don’t change the amount of your medicine or skip a dose unless your doctor tells you to.
Talk with your doctor about how often you should schedule follow-up visits or tests. These visits and tests can help your doctor monitor your stroke risk factors and adjust your treatment as needed.
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.
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.