4 Steps to a Successful Stroke Recovery
- Educate Yourself About Stroke Recovery
- Prevent Another Stroke
- Develop a Stroke Recovery Plan
- Follow Through on Your Recovery Plan
Step 1: Educate Yourself About Stroke Recovery
Education is one of the most important steps in recovering from stroke. Do research on what has happened to you and what to expect during your recovery. Learn how to maximize your physical capabilities and minimize your limitations, and how to cope with those that are not likely to change. Ask questions of your stroke specialist, other doctors, rehabilitation experts, and other stroke survivors. See our Links to Stroke Resources section where you can find useful information on stroke recovery and rehabilitation and related services.
A common worry after stroke, one that contributes to feelings of helplessness and pessimism, is the fear that stroke could strike again. This fear is not unfounded: each year, an estimated 180,000 stroke survivors in the US experience another stroke.1 Prevalence among women stroke survivors are 22% of women aged 40 to 69 who have a stroke will have another stroke within 5 years, and 28% of women older than 70 will have another stroke within 5 years of their first stroke.3
Recovering from the deficits left by a stroke is usually the top priority for stroke survivors. If you are recovering from a first stroke, in addition to dedicating yourself to your recovery and learning to cope with life after a stroke, it is crucial you take steps to prevent stroke from happening again. To prevent another stroke, you need to:
Identify and Control Your Stroke Risk Factors
If you have already had a stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA—signs of a stroke that last only a short time and resolve completely), you are at high risk for having another stroke in the future. For this reason, it is extremely important to know what your risk factors for another stroke are and to take steps to control them. Preventing a second stroke is similar to the steps everyone should take to prevent a first stroke. See our article "Preventing Stroke – the Basics" for a good place to start learning about your risk factors. Then see our articles on stroke risk factors for information on conditions and characteristics that put you at risk for having another stroke and what you can do about them.
Some important first steps are to get your blood pressure under control if you have high blood pressure, the biggest risk factor for stroke. Cholesterol-lowering statin medications can reduce your risk of another stroke even if you do not have high cholesterol. Another priority is to manage any other heart conditions you may have: find out if you have atrial fibrillation, a heart rhythm condition that makes you much more likely to have another stroke. For more information, see our section on atrial fibrillation. Aspirin or blood thinners such as Coumadin may be used to reduce your risk for stroke if you have atrial fibrillation.
If you smoke, quit. Our section How to Quit Smoking has links to resources that can help you succeed. If you have diabetes (15% to 30% of stroke survivors do) make sure you are managing it properly.7 See our section on diabetes for ways to prevent a stroke if you have diabetes. It is also important to eat a healthy diet. Our Diet section has information on the kind of diet that is best for lowering your risk of stroke. Your doctor may recommend a more generally healthy diet that is low in sodium and saturated or trans fats, or a specific diet such as the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet to lower your blood pressure by eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and less salt. Exercise is also a crucial step in preventing another stroke, and should be a part of your physical rehabilitation program. See our section on physical rehabilitation for more information on exercising after a stroke.
Stick To Your Treatment Plan
Another important aspect of preventing another stroke is to follow the treatment plan and medications your doctor prescribed after your stroke. In addition to helping you recover and avoid complications from your first stroke, many of the medications prescribed after a stroke help prevent another stroke. Your doctor may prescribe not only medications to control your risk factors, but also medications that prevent blood clots and reduce the risk of another stroke. This medication may be as simple as daily aspirin, or your doctor may prescribe a combination of aspirin and dipyridamole (Aggrenox) or clopidogrel (Plavix). You may also be given medications to treat and control other heart and blood vessel problems you have that can affect your chances of having a stroke.
Whatever medications your doctor recommends, it is important that you take them at the prescribed intervals, and never stop taking any medication without letting your doctor know. If you are not sure why you are taking a medication, do some research and ask your doctor to explain it to you. If you know how your medications work and why they are important for you to prevent another stroke, you may be more likely to follow your doctor's advice.
Some women who have already had a stroke may be eligible for medical procedures to prevent another stroke. The most common procedure to prevent stroke is called carotid endarterectomy, which removes buildup from the walls of the carotid arteries in the neck. Visit our article on carotid endarterectomy to learn more. In any case, you should do your own research and talk to you doctor to make sure you are taking advantage of all the treatment options available and giving yourself the best chance of avoiding another stroke.