What should I expect from recovery after a stroke?

Published: Thursday, May 16, 2024

When a stroke strikes, it can cause a large amount of damage in a small amount of time. Recovery after a stroke usually requires both emergency treatment and intensive rehabilitation.

If you or a loved one has experienced a stroke, you may wonder what to expect next. Understanding what happens during a stroke can help you understand the damage it can cause. A stroke is a medical emergency, occurring when blood flow to the brain is disrupted. There are two main types of stroke: ischemic and hemorrhagic.

Ischemic strokes are far more common, and they happen when a blood clot cuts off blood flow to the brain. Hemorrhagic strokes, on the other hand, occur when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, flooding the brain tissue with blood.

Keep reading to learn what’s involved in recovery after a stroke.

Treatment for a stroke

Stroke is the fifth most common cause of death among Americans and a leading cause of disability. That’s because any disruption to the blood flow in the brain can cause damage to the brain—with effects on the entire body.

When a stroke occurs, minutes matter. Immediate intervention is needed to restore normal blood flow, and in the case of a hemorrhagic stroke, to remove excess pressure from the brain. If someone you know is experiencing symptoms of stroke, call 911 immediately for transportation to the hospital. This is important because lifesaving medical care can begin in the ambulance on the way to the hospital.

The first stage of recovery after a stroke is treatment of the stroke itself. Treatment depends on the type of stroke since they occur in different ways.

Ischemic strokes are treated with a medication known as thrombolytic plasminogen activator, or tPA. This medication is what’s known as a “thrombolytic,” meaning it breaks up blood clots. tPA can only be administered within the first three hours after symptoms of an ischemic stroke begin, so it’s essential to seek medical care immediately.

Those who are treated with tPA often experience better outcomes with less long-term disability. Ischemic strokes may also be treated with procedure to remove the clot or using blood thinners.

Hemorrhagic stroke is treated in different ways depending on whether the brain bleed remains active or not. If the burst blood vessel continues to leak, treatment may include an endovascular procedure to repair the blood vessel or surgery. Medications can also be used to curtail bleeding and manage the effects of stroke.

Long-term recovery after a stroke

Stroke can affect the body in distinct ways depending on the part of the brain impacted and the severity of the stroke. Strokes that occur on the left side of the brain affect the right side of the body, while those that occur on the right side of the brain affect the left side of the body.

A stroke that impacts the left side of the brain may cause speech and language problems, while one on the right side of the brain may cause vision, sensory loss and hemibody neglect. Damage on either side of the brain can cause paralysis, memory loss and behavioral changes.

After the stroke has been treated on an emergency basis, rehabilitation will begin to help recover abilities and lessen the long-term effects of the stroke. Stroke rehabilitation starts in the hospital, often as quickly as a day or two after a stroke occurs.

At Northeast Georgia Medical Center, our inpatient rehabilitation unit has been recognized with Stroke Specialty Certification, meaning we’re specialized in helping guide recovery after a stroke.

Rehabilitation isn’t one-size-fits-all. It’s personalized based on how a stroke affected a person’s mind and body and may include physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech-language pathology or a combination of therapies.

Each type of therapy focuses on a different aspect of recovery after a stroke. You may be most familiar with physical therapy, which uses specific exercises to help stroke patients relearn coordination, balance and movements lost to a stroke.

Stroke patients also benefit from other types of rehabilitation. Occupational therapy sounds like it’s related to someone’s occupation, or work, but it focuses on helping patients recover abilities related to any daily activities. That can include work-related activities, along with basic tasks like bathing, writing, brushing teeth, eating and drinking and getting dressed.

Speech-language pathology, also called speech therapy, is similarly more than what its name indicates. While speech therapy is used to help stroke patients overcome difficulties understanding or producing speech, it’s also used for difficulties with swallowing.

Dysphagia, the formal name for swallowing difficulties, is common after a stroke and may cause problems swallowing liquids, food or both. Speech therapy can help patients overcome those difficulties, allowing them to swallow effectively again.

Those who experienced a mild stroke may require only one type of rehabilitation, such as physical therapy, but most people need a combination of therapies for full recovery after a stroke.

When rehabilitation begins in the hospital, the care team will assess the stroke patient’s abilities and determine the types of rehabilitation that will help most. From there, they will create a rehabilitation plan that outlines goals for both inpatient rehabilitation and outpatient rehabilitation once a patient is discharged to a skilled nursing facility or home.

Recovery after a stroke is a long-term process. It may take weeks, months or even years, but our team is here to help you through from start to finish.

Learn more

Northeast Georgia Medical Center Gainesville is certified as a Comprehensive Stroke Center. We offer the full spectrum of services for recovery after a stroke, including emergency treatment and comprehensive rehabilitation.