Treatment of Stroke

Immediate treatment of a stroke—as soon as symptoms occur—is critical. A stroke is a medical emergency, and you should call 9-1-1 without delay at the first warning sign. Prompt treatment can restore blood flow to the brain and reduce damage. As well, immediate treatment can save your life and improve your chances of a successful recovery.

The course of treatment will depend on the type of stroke (ischemic or hemorrhagic). For an ischemic stroke, doctors will consider factors including the location and cause of the clot when choosing treatment. The goal of treatment is to stabilize vital signs. When an ischemic stroke is diagnosed soon after the onset of symptoms, a clot-dissolving medicine called tissue plasminogen activator (t-PA) may be used; t-PA, however, is not safe for people who have experienced a hemorrhagic stroke. Treatment of hemorrhagic stroke involves efforts to reduce pressure in the brain and stabilize vital signs—blood pressure in particular. In some cases, surgery may be considered; like initial treatment, types of surgical procedures are also determined by the type of stroke.

Once a patient’s condition is stable following a stroke, the next phase of treatment may involve controlling risk factors for another stroke. Medications and lifestyle measures may be recommended to manage conditions such as high blood pressure, heart conditions, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

A large part of treatment of stroke is rehabilitation following a stroke. Stroke can result in disabilities including paralysis, trouble controlling movement, pain, problems speaking or understanding speech, and problems with thinking or memory. Rehabilitation can help people relearn skills following a stroke and restore the ability to function. People may begin rehabilitation therapy as soon as their condition is stable, often within 24 to 48 hours after the stroke. Rehabilitation begins in the critical care unit and continues in inpatient or outpatient facilities, nursing facilities, or at home as the patient’s condition improves.

Post-stroke rehabilitation involves a team of professionals. These include physicians; rehabilitation nurses; physical, occupational, recreational, vocational, and speech-language therapists; and mental health professionals. Together, these professionals help people recovering from a stroke to care for their general health, reduce risk factors for another stroke, relearn how to carry out activities of daily life, regain use of stroke-impaired limbs, relearn how to speak or find other ways to communicate, and assist people finding appropriate jobs and understanding their rights under the Disabilities Act of 1990.

Resources

The American Stroke Association

The Brain Attack Coalition

The National Stroke Association

The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: Know Stroke: Know the Signs, Act in Time

Sources

Stroke. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/stroke/index.htm. (Accessed October 2010).

Stroke Risk Factors and Symptoms. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/stroke/stroke_bookmark.htm. (Accessed October 2010).

Brain Basics: Preventing Stroke. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/stroke/preventing_stroke.htm.

(Accessed October 2010).

Know Stroke. Know the Signs. Act in Time. Stroke. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/stroke/knowstroke.htm. (Accessed October 2010).

Post-Stroke Rehabilitation Fact Sheet. The National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/stroke/poststrokerehab.htm.

(Accessed October 2010).