What to Do After a Stroke

Strokes occur when a blood vessel that carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain is blocked by a clot or bursts. About 795,000 Americans each year suffer from a stroke. Changes in the blood vessels occur over years. This means, if you have had 1 stroke, you are at greater risk of having another one within the next year.

A stroke may cause physical and mental difficulties. These can include mild to severe paralysis on one side of the body, difficulty understanding words or speaking, slow thinking, and fatigue.

Know your numbers

High blood pressure (greater than 140/90) is a leading cause of stroke. This is because the added pressure can damage and weaken blood vessels.

You can buy a digital blood pressure monitor with an automatic arm cuff. A device like this costs about $60 at pharmacies. Routinely take your blood pressure at home. Do this in the morning and the evening, both sitting up and lying down, for at least several weeks. Record the readings in a log and bring this information with you when you see your primary care provider and other providers.

Uncontrolled blood sugar also is a risk factor for recurrent stroke. If you have diabetes, keep a log of your blood sugar as well. When your provider has this information, along with your blood pressure readings, he or she can help plan effective treatment. This can include medications and lifestyle changes.

Watch for side effects

Based on the data you provide, your provider may put you on new medication or adjust the medication you’re already taking. In any event, take your medicine as directed. Don’t stop taking it unless your provider tells you to do so, even if you feel fine.

But if you feel lightheaded, dizzy, confused, weak, or achy, tell your provider immediately. Don't wait until your next appointment. These symptoms could be related to diabetes, high blood pressure, or a medication side effect

Keep up the good work

As another part of your recovery, you may need rehabilitation to recover the use of an affected arm or leg. This is called mobility training. You may also need communication training for speech problems. A nutritionist can help with swallowing problems. Rehab can also help you regain your mental abilities, such as memory or problem solving. Inpatient and outpatient rehab may be part of your treatment plan for up to 6 months post-stroke. Rehab can also help with relearning basic tasks like feeding, bathing, and dressing. But progress doesn’t end there.

There are no time limits for stroke rehabilitation. Current research shows that the immediate time frame following a stroke is very important in recovering lost function. It also shows that ongoing rehabilitation has success in restoring function as well as preventing complications.

Practice your skills

Repetition and routine are important in training your brain to learn functional tasks again. You may need to practice the tasks you want to improve several hours each day. Some of that practice may need to be supervised by a physical therapist or a doctor, and certainly family members can help. But much of it has to be done on your own. Encourage family members to let you do as much as possible yourself, even if you’re struggling.

For the best results, talk to your therapists about your program, and once you are home, get some help in setting up the best conditions for doing alternate activities several hours a day. If necessary, talk to your provider about ways to increase your focus and concentration. Aim for small advances day by day.